The Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-0) will have another test on Saturday on the road against Arkansas (1-2). The Razorbacks have had a disappointing start to the season with losses to Louisiana-Monroe and Alabama, the latter being a 52-0 blowout. This game will be a chance for Rutgers to gain some added respect around the country. The matchup, scheduled to kickoff at 7pm EST, will be broadcast live on ESPNU.
Not many “experts” around the country are giving Rutgers a chance to win now that Arkansas star quarterback Tyler Wilson has been cleared to play after missing a game and a half with a concussion. However, I am here to tell you the Scarlet Knights absolutely can pull off a win on Saturday against the SEC opponent. In order to do that, there are some key areas of the game they must control.
Pressure Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson
Wilson has been cleared to play on Saturday and the Razorbacks are a different, more confident team when he is on the field. However, he will be returning from a concussion. While he is a veteran fifth year senior with plenty of experience, it can’t be easy to come back from that and feel confident in standing in the pocket. If Rutgers can put pressure on Wilson, they can force him into quick decisions, which can lead to mistakes. Rutgers likes to use their linebackers and defensive backs to bring pressure. It would go a long way in helping Rutgers be successful however if the defensive line could manufacture their own pressure, allowing Rutgers to leave more players in coverage against a good passing team.
Run, Run, Run
It’s no secret that Rutgers has had tremendous success running the ball the season. Jawan Jamison has become a workhorse with game breaking ability any time the ball is in his hands, and that’s been often. Last week against South Florida, Jamison had over 40 carries. I don’t expect another 40 carry game, but somewhere in the mid 30′s could very well be within reach. Savon Huggins is likely to miss his second straight game, so Jamison will be backed up by two players with very limited game time under their belts. If Rutgers can run the ball effectively, it will help open some passing opportunities for QB Gary Nova. Rutgers will likely look to Jamison to move the chains and the clock, keeping Wilson and the Arkansas offense off the field.
Stop the Penalties!
Through the first three games, Rutgers has shot themselves in the foot with penalties numerous times. They must stop. You are not going to go on the road against an SEC opponent and stay in the game if you continuously commit penalties. Rutgers can’t afford to have a 15 yard run called back for holding, or be pushed back because of a false-start call. Head coach Kyle Flood said the penalties were fixable, let’s hope they have the issue solved prior to tomorrow’s game.
Protect the Ball, Force Turnovers
Rutgers has won the turnover battle in all three games this season. The defense has always been one to force turnovers because of their aggressive play. When the ball hits the ground, the Rutgers defense is quick to get to it, and the secondary has had a few key interceptions already this season. Arkansas has had issues protecting the ball. The Razorbacks are -8 in turnover margin, so Rutgers should look to capitalize on this. A key turnover can change the momentum and outlook of any game. On the flip side, Gary Nova and the offense must protect the ball. Nova will need to be smart, not throw in traffic, and not overthrow a receiver with a defender waiting behind him.
Frustrate the Razorbacks
Frustrate an opponent? Well, yes I know that sounds like an odd key to the game, but it can happen. The Razorbacks are coming off two straight losses, the latest an embarrassing 52-0 crushing from Alabama. After the game, Wilson publicly called out his teammates for quiting. When things go wrong, a fragile team can break. If Rutgers can do the things listed above (pressure Wilson, force turnovers, etc.), the Razorbacks may get frustrated, lose faith in each other, and possible begin to argue with one another, or even quit and take plays off. The Scarlet Knights must give their all on every play, let Arkansas know they are there to play and ready to win. Get in their heads!
For me, the key here will be improved play from Rutgers punter Justin Doerner. Last weeks performance was admittedly disappointing. Doerner averaged somewhere in the 35-36 yard range on his punts against South Florida. Luckily the Rutgers defense played so well that field position was not a major concern. I don’t expect Rutgers to move the ball all the way down the field every drive against Arkansas. So, when a first down can’t be reached and Rutgers is forced to punt, Doerner will play a huge role. Last season, Doerner was arguably one of Rutgers biggest weapon with his big leg. This season has been inconsistent at best. Rutgers will need Doerner’s leg to pin Arkansas deep in their own territory and force them to try and complete long drives against their strong defense.