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Know Your Foe, Week 11: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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The Nittany Lions are in for a stronger Rutgers defense on Saturday

NCAA Football: Maryland at Rutgers Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers University

Location: New Brunswick, New Jersey
Enrollment: 49,359 (undergraduates)
Home Stadium: High Point Solutions Stadium (Piscataway, New Jersey)
Head Coach: Chris Ash, second season, 6–15 (.286)
Conference: Big Ten (East Division)

Series History

First Game: November 9, 1918 (Rutgers won 26-3)
Last Game: September 19, 2015 (Penn State won 28-3)
Overall: Penn State leads 25-2
Current Win Streak: Penn State, 10

Last Season (2-10 overall, 0-9 Big Ten)

Rutgers posted a 2-10 record in Ash's first season in 2016. The only two wins for the Scarlet Knights were back-to-back victories in September against Howard University and University of New Mexico. There’s really not much more to say about that.

Last Week

Rutgers, at 4-5 overall (3-3 in the Big Ten) is doing much better this year, winning three of its last four Big Ten games against Illinois, Purdue and last week, defeating the Maryland Terrapins.

It was quite the back and forth battle with Maryland scoring first in the first quarter, with Rutgers responding with 17 points in the second quarter. By the half, the score had shifted from a Maryland 7-0 lead to a Rutgers 17-14 lead. In the third quarter, Maryland came back strong, scoring 10 unanswered points for the 24-17 lead, but Rutgers returned the favor in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 unanswered points for the win.

Rutgers’ defense racked up four sacks against Maryland, a season best, and had two key plays that made all the difference in the game. Kiy Hester had a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown, and Isaiah Wharton had a break-up with just 46 seconds remaining in the game to seal the win.

Offensively, Rutgers rushed for 239 yards and allowed no sacks. Gus Edwards ran for a season-high 109 yards overall.

Recruiting and Offseason

The Rutgers 2017 class ranks as the nation’s 42nd recruiting class (ninth in the Big Ten) as compared to Penn State’s 2017 class, ranked at 15th in the nation and third in the Big10.

Former Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Jerry Kill, who retired in October 2015 due to the effects of seizures, joined the Scarlet Knights as their new offensive coordinator.

Offense

If you’re last in offense in the Big Ten and in FBS, and 127th in scoring offense (2016), it can only get better, right? Well, the Rutgers offense is still a work in progress (last in total offense in the Big Ten and near last nationally this season and 105th in scoring offense).

But the Scarlet Knights have some bright spots in certain positions. Let’s start with running back Gus Edwards, a transfer from Miami this summer, once rated as the top fullback in the country. Starting the first eight games at running back, Edwards has 140 rushes for 630 yards and six touchdowns, along with 12 receptions for 102 yards and one touchdown catch.

Robert Martin (79 attempts for 358 yards and three touchdowns) and Raheem Blackshear (33 attempts for 229 yards and three touchdowns) have also seen a fair amount of run time.

In the receiver corps, Jerome Washington leads with 24 receptions for 253 yards and one touchdown, along with Janarion Grant who’s had 16 receptions for 167 yards and a touchdown. Grant is also the kick and punt returner, but is uncertain for this weekend’s game after missing the last game with an apparent ankle injury.

Rutgers has had some quarterback woes this year, beginning the season with senior Kyle Bolin (a transfer from Louisville) as the starter. In six games, Bolin was 73 of 133 passing for 71 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions. Giovanni Rescigno has started the last four games, and has gone 3-1 since taking over as the starter. Rescigno, so far in six appearances, is 32 of 63 passes for 407 yards and two touchdowns.

Defense

Defense, however, is another story, as the Scarlet Knights, under former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, have improved dramatically. Rutgers has moved to 66th in total defense, 54th in scoring defense (from 116th last year) and 27th in FBS in defensive touchdowns.

Some stats that Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley may want to keep in mind are that the Scarlet Knights are 16th in kickoff return defense, allowing just 187 yards, and their pass defense surrenders just 214.3 yards per game.

Unfortunately, one of the best defensive players for the Scarlet Knights, cornerback Blessuan Austin, who defended 14 passes last year and had one interception, tore his ACL earlier this season and is out. Corner Damon Hayes is filling in with starting corner Isaiah Wharton also returning.

One reason that Rutgers ranks 21st nationally with 11 picks is safety Kiy Hester. He has a team-high three interceptions, and is ninth in the nation (fourth in the conference) with 1.5 passes defended per game.

Top tacklers last year were linebackers Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts, both returning and leading the defense this year. Morris has 70 tackles (30 solo), and 4.5 tackles for loss and Roberts has 55 tackles (19 solo) and three TFLs.

There are junior and senior veterans on the defensive line, including Darnell Davis, responsible for two sacks this year along with 26 tackles and three TFLs.

Special Teams
Janarion Grant is the returner for both the kicking and punting units. If Grant plays and has recovered from his ankle injury, he’ll be a threat – he has eight career return touchdowns, currently tied for the NCAA record. Grant also has eight returns for 169 yards so far this year (and nine punt returns for 96 yards). Raheem Blackshear has also handled kick return duties this season for Rutgers with 11 returns for 165 yards.

Fifth year senior and grad transfer from Minnesota, kicker Andrew Harte, won the kicking battle for the Scarlet Knights, beating out last year’s kicker, senior David Bonagura. Harte has been 100% on extra points but only made five of eight field goals so far this year for a 62.5% average. Last week against Maryland, Harte drilled a 50-yard field goal, the longest by a Scarlet Knight since 2012.

Punter Ryan Anderson, who started his career at at DII Saginaw Valley State, then transferred to DIII Olivet College to play football and basketball, and who is a 4.0 student, joined the Scarlet Knights this summer and earned the starting punting job. Anderson has 58 punts for 2,550 yards and an average of 44 yards. Anderson is on the Ray Guy Award watch list by averaging 44 yards per kick.

On special teams, Rutgers' Dacoven Bailey and Lawrence Stevens hold a team-high seven tackles on special teams.

Blog
Read more about Rutgers football at their SB Nation blog On the Banks.