After a season's worth of terrible defense, yielding blowouts to the B1G's best, the Scarlet Knights suddenly had a defensive renaissance in the second half of the Maryland game. Down 35-10 and buoyed by a roughing the kicker penalty, Rutgers suddenly started making stops and were able to prevent the Terrapins from extending the lead, allowing the offense to get back in the game.
If RU wants to get that eighth win to defy all expectations for the first season in the B1G, they'll have to sustain that defensive effort in the Quick Lane Bowl against a very good quarterback.
Stopping Marquise Williams
Williams is the main reason the Tar Heels are even bowling this season. Despite a truly horrendous defense, Williams put the entire team on his shoulders en route to six wins for UNC in 2014. He accounted for 32 total touchdowns and led the team in rushing with over 700 yards. He is the most valuable player on the team, and if the Knights can even just limit his production, they'll have a good chance at winning this game.
Williams is an effective runner, which is historically a sore point for any Rutgers defense, even going back to the mid-2000s teams. He doesn't just run read option plays; Larry Fedora's playbook calls for designed runs as well. Similar to Braxton Miller, Williams looks like a natural running back when he takes off, as opposed to a straight-line runner like other quarterbacks. In other words, he doesn't just have speed; he has the moves to make you miss a tackle, a serious problem plaguing Joe Rossi's squad this year. In terms of total offense, Marquise Williams is second only to 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. That's better than any quarterback from Clemson's prolific attack or Bobby Petrino's offensive set. One stop in this game could mean the difference between a win and a loss.
Nova should go out on a high note
It was another up-and-down year from Gary Nova, but the senior did play exceedingly well against mediocre teams, including a Michigan defense that ended the season ranked 10th overall in total defense. North Carolina is by far the worst defense that Rutgers will face all year, so there shouldn't be any reason for Nova to struggle finding his receivers in the confines of a dome. Leonte Carroo's return for next year is still questionable, but his injury status is not: Kyle Flood stated that he believes Carroo will be 100% by game time on Friday.
With a total defense ranked 119 overall out of 128 teams in FBS, it's hard to say whether running or passing will mean more success, as North Carolina is bad at defending both, really. Freshmen backs Robert Martin and Josh Hicks should continue to delight RU fans for present and future of the backfield, and with fifth-year transfer Andrew Turzilli returning to the wide receiver corps, the Scarlet Knights should have no trouble lighting up the scoreboard. Again, one stop in the game could mean the difference between a win and a loss.
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The narrative for the Quick Lane Bowl has been more or less a "first to 50 wins" type of game, but bowl season tends to get weird from game to game. Both Rutgers and North Carolina are bad defensively, but during bowl season, this is the type of game that could surprise everyone and be a real snoozer at 14-13. Not likely though. If you love offense, don't even change the channel. If you love defense, avert your eyes.