The most anticipated game of the year is behind us, and now Rutgers finds itself in a lackluster stretch. No offense to Houston, UCF, or Cincinnati, but I understand if RU fans are already looking towards the B1G, especially with the chance of a BCS bid looking very bleak. However, the Scarlet Knights can legitimately beat every team left on the schedule, albeit with a bit of luck and a heaping pile of determination. No matter who is on the schedule, a ten or eleven win season is something to hang your hat on, and that hasn't happened since the 2006 season. So, while one of the main goals of the season was not achieved, there does exist a new one: entering the B1G with momentum.
This is another scary (spooky?) matchup for Kyle Flood. Houston brings the 18th ranked passing offense to Piscataway against a secondary that was just gutted by defection and injury. Lew Toler is out for the foreseeable future, and Ian Thomas' infatuation with America's favorite pastime leaves the cornerback position in flux. Two true freshmen will get the start on Saturday, putting a big ole' target on the secondary. Houston QB John O'Korn has arguably the best receiving corps in the American, with Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer leading the way. If the missed tackle problem isn't fixed by kickoff, Rutgers will have a tough time slowing the Cougar offense, if at all. BYU by no means has a stellar pass defense, but their scoring defense is good for 28th in the nation, allowing close to 21 points per game. Houston laid 46 points on that defense, so it's cringing to think about what they can do to a pass defense ranked 121st out of 125 teams. Nadir Barnwell will be a good corner in the future, but right now he is a struggling young buck in the defensive backfield. Anthony Cioffi will be looking to make his first start, and it's hard to have a lot of confidence that he can find early success in such a tough situation. John O'Korn should find plenty of holes with this young unit.
Luckily for Rutgers, Houston owns the 118th ranked pass defense, so this should be a good bounce back opportunity for maligned quarterback Gary Nova. As he was on his way to a career season, Nova completely fell apart against the Louisville Cardinals in front of a national audience. BYU QB Taysom Hill threw for over 400 yards against the Houston defense, but the secondary did manage to pick him off not twice, but thrice. This will be a good opportunity for Brandon Coleman to use his size to overpower a likewise struggling secondary. Unfortunately, Gary Nova won't have Paul James back for a safety net, but his absence should be diminished if the coaching staff lets Justin Goodwin and Savon Huggins actually get some touches. Houston is definitely better against the run, but only marginally better. A solid running game will keep the ball out of O'Korn's hands and give the RU defense plenty of rest for what should be a day filled with big plays.
Rutgers' secondary wasn't all that great to begin with, but losing Ian Thomas and Lewis Toler is a definite loss. I had this game close for Rutgers originally, but with the mess at corner, I just think it will come down to Gary Nova's performance. I've learned that that is not a good bet to make, so I see it as a nailbiter in Houston's favor, 41-38.