For Rutgers' third game of the season, there seems to be a plethora of distractions to keep RU's focus from the game itself. Eric LeGrand is a huge presence at the University, and the retirement ceremony for his number 52 will be very emotional for many players and coaches, as it should be. Furthermore, Arkansas looms next week, and many of the players (especially the young guys) may look ahead to a game against a high-profile foe. Is that enough to distract the Scarlet Knights from defeating an overmatched opponent?
If you're looking for a way that Eastern Michigan could give Rutgers fits, it's the passing game. Tyler Benz is a short-game quarterback, an offense that really frustrated the Knights out in Fresno. If the linebackers don't have their tackling fundamentals down pat by now, then EMU could really rack up the YAC. Speed should help slow down the passing game, but making tackles in space is what will shut down the Eagles. Steve Longa has cheetah-speed coming out of the middle linebacker position, so look for him to generate double-digit tackles on Saturday. The EMU offensive line is also quite porous, meaning that Darius Hamilton and Marcus Thompson have a chance to rack up some sacks and TFLs this week.
The Eagles' running game should not be much of a factor, as EMU ran for paltry 61 yards on 35 carries against Penn State. Rutgers' run defense is still a wall, and it should be tough for Bronson Hill to get anything going, further pressuring Tyler Benz to perform on offense. His top receiving target is TE Tyreese Russell, a 6'3" 240 pound junior from Chicago. The experienced pass-catcher has the talent to overpower some of the RU defenders, making him a top red-zone target. The key will be making it to the red-zone, which I think will be quite difficult for offensive coordinator Stan Parrish. Parrish, for those of you who don't remember, spent five seasons at Rutgers as Doug Graber's assistant head coach in the mid-nineties. I think it's safe to say he doesn't carry many trade secrets on the Scarlet Knights.
If Rutgers is distracted early, the Eagles have enough talent on defense to fluster the Knights. Eastern Michigan held Penn State to 0 for 4 on third-down conversions in the first half last week. A frustrated Gary Nova could mean trouble for the RU offense, but I expect the run game to eventually overpower the Eagles. Paul James is really coming on as a star tailback, but don't overlook the importance of Savon Huggins. Ron Prince needs multiple backs to produce for RU to thrive, and this could serve as yet another confidence boost for the former five-star recruit. A key factor will be the center position for Rutgers, as Betim Bujari is a game-time decision heading into the game. The back-up center was not settled during training camp, which leaves Dallas Hendrikson as the only lineman with game experience to fall back on. Tom Luicci of the Star-Ledger indicated that Antwan Lowery could serve as a back-up as well, although he does not have any experience at the position.
Senior LB Sean Kurtz leads a defense that can hold serve for a drive but give up a big play in a flash. That's good recipe for Brandon Coleman or Leonte Carroo, or maybe both, to make some noise. The Eagles defense has the talent to take advantage of mistakes by RU, as the only points scored against Penn State came from the D.
Bovada currently has Rutgers at -28, which seems about right. I don't think RU will cover the spread, however, only due to Flood and Co. keeping the playbook tight for a vanilla showing on offense. I see it closer to a 31-13 victory for the Knights, with a heavy dose of running and some basic passes to keep the receivers fresh.
What do you think? Is there a matchup you think will decide the game? Leave a comment below with your predictions. Also, for the opponent's point of view, head on over to Hustle Belt for a game preview of Rutgers v. Eastern Michigan.