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Rutgers-Syracuse game preview

Previewing the Rutgers-Syracuse game.

Mark Konezny-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

You have to give Syracuse one thing this year: they're a lot better than UConn. Having an actual passing game tends to have that effect on teams. Indeed, with the other contenders (Pitt, USF, Temple) all stumbling in their own right, there's a fair case to be made that Syracuse is in the top half of the Big East right now. Part of that is a product of the league being so weak at the bottom, but they at least don't have an embarrassing blemish on their resume unless you count losing to Minnesota. That's more than you can say than for the bottom four programs right now.

It's hard to say exactly how dangerous Cuse is this year. Their OL has been a little shaky, but has improved since Justin Pugh's return from injury. Ryan Nassib is an accurate passer, but doesn't throw much of a deep ball. We saw last year what happened when Rutgers was able to rattle him, and indeed, this is a program that shot itself repeatedly in the foot in the Northwestern game. (As has been the case for a while, special teams miscues remain a big issue.) They have a solid bunch of receivers, but not a ton in the way of big play explosion, especially if backup Jeremiah Kobena doesn't play. The one X factor is multi-positional threat Ashton Broyld, who hasn't seen the field much thus far. This is an offense that executes well fundamentally, but is prone to ineffectiveness at critical junctures due to predictable play calling from offensive coordinator Nate Hackett.

Either way, Syracuse likes to dink and dunk the ball, so they will probably try for a repeat for Tulane's game plan. (Let's hope Rutgers brings the real plays, instead of sitting on their hands like they did in that game in order to show USF absolutely nothing on film) The game plan there was to shut down the run and force them to be one dimensional, and then go after the QB with guns blazing, so you'd think that's likely to be the strategy. Or, traditionally, another way to defend the short passing game is to just play a ton of zone and gamble that eventually the offense will get an incompletion on third down, but that's a lot less exciting.

Syracuse has been known for blitz-heavy packages under Marrone and DC Scott Shafer. They were getting a LOT of pressure on Pitt's OL last week with Jay Bromley and Brandon Sharpe, but a lot of that was undoubtedly due to how bad the Panther OL has been. In spite of that, teams have been able to throw on the Orange. They made Tino Sunseri (ok, maybe he might be half-decent this year) of all players look good last week, and that can't ALL be blitzing extra safeties. Unfortunately, we might see more of the WR screens from last week to keep the pressure off Gary Nova, but I think a Brandon Coleman, Tim Wright, or Mark Harrison could definitely break one if they get a little separation. Safety Shamarko Thomas is another question mark to play. He's kind of like Bob Sanders in that he just plain packs a wallop, but doesn't it seem like he's hurt half of the time? Thomas is a big loss if he can't go, and another positive matchup is probably Siriki Diabate at MLB, who has really struggled.

Rutgers is just plain the better team, with far better athleticism and depth across the roster, and has the benefit of playing at home. Still, unlike last week, this will be no pushover. Thankfully, RU knows that, and won't look past Syracuse given that they may be one of the better teams in the league this year. There's too much at stake. Offensively, the Knights need to toss their conservative gameplan from the week before and play with the same aggression that they did against USF and Arkansas. You have to run the ball (SU practically begs for it given their use of the no-huddle, I can already see their defense gassed in the fourth quarter), but the passing game has been a bit more effective so far. Yes, they may not have a healthy scholarship field goal kicker, and will probably get a lot of penalties, but that will be of little importance compared to controlling the line of scrimmage and game tempo. I think Rutgers can and will do that, and thus should be favored to win.

Prediction: Rutgers 24, Syracuse 16