Rutgers is in an interesting situation heading into the last two games of the season. With six wins in hand, the Scarlet Knights can only exceed expectations (for the vast majority) from here on out. The national media pegged Rutgers to be last in the East Division, and right now, you could make the argument that they are fourth. The majority of readers on this site predicted a 6-6 finish as well, so another win is just cake, errr..icing.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Schiano teams was that the players played tense. What will happen when the pressure is off, and they don't have to worry about getting win number six anymore?
It's definitely a unique predicament facing Rutgers. You have to go all the way back to 2010 to find a time when Rutgers wasn't really in the mix for something big in the last couple games of the season. When you have nothing to lose, you could see the best performance out of the players.
Sparty Knows Offense
Take a guess as to who leads the B1G in total offense. It's not Wisconsin, even with super-back Melvin Gordon. It's not Ohio State with freshman phenom J.T. Barrett. The leading offense doesn't have Ameer Abdullah or Tevin Coleman. No, the leading offense in the Big Ten is Michigan State. The Spartans can thank junior quarterback Connor Cook, who is the number one player in the B1G in passing yards per game and number two in passing efficiency. MSU also has the leading receiver in yards per game and leading kicker in total points. Sparty isn't just about defense, the offense can kill you as well. Some players like DaeSean Hamilton or even Leonte Carroo will get the spotlight, but Tony Lippett is every bit as athletic as those two receivers. Michigan State is very experienced offensively, and they can pick you apart in the most frustrating way possible.
This season, offense wasn't the problem for the Spartans. They can march down the field at will, and put up points with the best teams in college football. It makes you cringe just thinking about what they can do to a Rutgers defense that is still struggling with tackling fundamentals.
This isn't the 2013 version of Michigan State. After losing players like Max Bullough and Darqueze Dennard, the "No-Fly Zone" isn't quite what it used to be (sort of like how the Legion of Boom has lost its luster #ComeAtMeSherman). Still, the Spartan defense can clamp down against inferior teams. Just ask Maryland. The Terrapins ran for a stunning six yards last Saturday at home. SIX. We're about to find out just how good Robert Martin and Josh Hicks really are. 197 yards between the two of them is impressive, but it was against Indiana. The Hoosiers are not quite as good on defense as the Spartans, or so I'm told.
Realistically, it's going to rest on Gary Nova's shoulders to have a chance at a win. Pat Narduzzi's defense is softest against the pass, as they give up a healthy 201 yards per game through the air. It's not a swiss cheese defense, but they are vulnerable at least. This is one of the more interesting coordinator matchups in all of college football this year. On the Spartan side, you have Narduzzi, who won the Broyles award for top coordinator in the nation. He arguably was the most important cog in the Spartan's 13-1 Rose Bowl championship campaign. For Rutgers, you have Ralph Friedgen, a well-regarded offensive guru who has had prolific offenses everywhere he's been. Both are proven coordinators, and both are incredibly important to the success of each respective team. Get your popcorn ready folks, and keep an eye on the RU offense versus the MSU defense. This could be a fun one.
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Sit back, and relax for this one. The Scarlet Knights are 22-point underdogs. If they lose big, everyone expected it. If they make it interesting, RU could find more respect in front of a national audience. The pressure is definitely on Michigan State. Sure, they're not making the playoff anymore, but they still have a good shot at a New Year's Six bowl. For RU, nothing really matters here. At the end of the day, Rutgers is still going bowling.