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Game 4 Preview: The Litmus Test

Arkansas provides the first real test of the season as the Hogs bring a prolific running game and SEC talent to Piscataway.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers fans have gotten through the Norfolk States and EMUs of the season, and it's finally time for some real football. Lots of unknowns heading into the game, especially both teams' starting quarterback situation. Nova looks like a go for Saturday, but how effective will he be? Read on for the full preview:

The Matchup

Finally, we have a classic strength versus strength matchup. The Razorbacks boast the 11th-ranked rushing game in the nation, with two top-ten rushers in the backfield. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams are two quality running backs that can wear down opposing defenses. Bret Bielema was known for a physical running during his tenure at Wisconsin, and it looks like he has successfully transitioned Arkansas into the same type of running game. Both backs have breakaway speed and the ability to move the pile on third and short situations.

With Brandon Allen a game-time decision for Saturday, the Razorbacks might have to start AJ Derby, who is not the next coming of Tyler Wilson. That will force Bielema to rely on his running game even more, which is exactly what Kyle Flood wants. The Scarlet Knights are extremely adept at stopping the run, evidenced by a fifth-ranked rushing defense that only gives up 59 yards a game. Most of the teams Rutgers has played have done damage through the air, so this is a perfect test for the illustrious ranking.

Rutgers has some injuries to overcome as well. Jamal Merrell trades places with twin brother Jamil on the injured list, so redshirt freshman Davon Jacobs gets the start. Andre Civil also remains sidelined, giving Chris Muller more playing time at RG. Gary Nova and C Betim Bujari should start for Saturday, although there's no telling whether they'll be able to withstand hits for the entire game. Officials have been mum on the severity of Nova's head injury, so it'll be a wait and see approach for the offense. Chas Dodd got more productive reps with the first-team this week, but it's unlikely he'll make significant progress from his lackluster showing against Eastern Michigan.

That leaves us with Paul James, Rutgers' new Cadillac. It'll be up to him to put the team on his shoulders tomorrow, and the Razorbacks know it. They'll likely be going full speed after Nova to try and rattle him, forcing Coach Flood to rely on the running game. This is nothing new for James, as Rutgers prides itself on being a power running team. This will be the first time that the offensive line and James will be going up against BCS competition, however, and SEC talent no less.

The Prediction

Bret Bielema is a surly guy, and I see him getting frustrated with a stout Rutgers run defense for 60 minutes. I see the Scarlet Knights getting a lead late in the fourth quarter, stopping a Razorback rally in the final seconds, 21-17.

What do you think? Is the prediction way off base? Think the game will go another way? Leave your predictions below!