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Rutgers defensive report card against Maryland

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Bend but don’t break results in a win.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Rutgers
Lumor had a nice game.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Nine down, three* to go as we are three-fourths of the way through the season. How did the units grade out against the Terrapins? Let us know how you feel about the defensive performance with our poll and in the comments below.

We break down the defensive performance at each of the three levels organized by alignment, assignment, and technique. The players listed in each group are in order of how noticeable they were to me, but potentially not every player who saw action.

Defensive Line: B (Wilkins, Turay, Turner, Joseph-Day, Bateky, Nash, Lumor, Previlon, Hogan, Davis)

Alignment: Rutgers played mostly 40 fronts with an occasional 30 in passing downs.

Assignment: Rutgers defensive line was in total stop the run mode early on trying to occupy as many blockers as possible and prevent offensive linemen from getting to the second level. They were in all out pass rush a few times and when they were turned loose on third and longs, were able to get some pressure with just the front four.

Technique: The defensive line was not driven back very often and held their ground quite well. This allowed them to make some tackles but more importantly keep linebackers free to make plays themselves.

Individual other player thoughts: Kevin Wilkins (3 tackles, 1 QBH) was a load and had to be blocked by two guys quite often. He had the hit that resulted in the Hester interception. Julius Turner (2 tackles, 1 sack) continues to bring some energy in spot duty. Jon Bateky (5 tackles, half sack) had a great bounce back game, undressing his blocker a few times. Joseph (5 tackles, half sack) rebounded in a big way this week. Will Previlon (1 tackle) got less snaps than he had been with the unit closer to full strength but occupied some blockers, especially on stunts. Elorm Lumor (6 tackles, 1 sack) seemed to have turned a corner with surely his best game so Myles Nash could concentrate more on offense and Turay could rest more than he has been able to recently. Kemoko Turay (1 tackles, 1 QBH) was not as disruptive individually and was extremely limited. Still though, they need more from him the rest of the way. Darnell Davis was absent, hopefully not because of his limitation in coverage last week. Jimmy Hogan (1 TFL) got in and the first play of the second half blew it up in the backfield which was good to see. He infused some energy the team needed.

The line had some solid individual performances and did truly force Maryland quarterbacks to be uncomfortable. This was not quite Ohio State all over Penn State in terms of pressure, but the unit was able to get some push and collapse the pocket a few times even without a 5th rusher. The grade isn’t higher because on short yardage they did not push Maryland back enough and they did not get enough pressure (until the final drive) when the Terps were able to get a few first downs.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Rutgers
Hogan opened the half with a stuff.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers: B (Morris, Roberts, Douglas, Onyechi)

Alignment: The linebackers played the middle and weak side in conventional alignment, but seemed to be cheating the strong side backer further outside, almost as a slot corner quite often.

Assignment: Rutgers played this pretty conservative at the middle and weak slide spots, but the strong side linebacker role was in slot corner, more of a safety at times, and occasionally lined up at the line of scrimmage. Maryland usually uses almost exclusively one back sets, so it seemed Morris would take the back out one side, while Roberts would take him out the other. Onyechi did come on a blitz once that resulted in either a sack or maybe a short QB scramble.

Technique: As the game wore on, angles and speed did not get compromised like the previous week. The staff must have realized they needed to keep fresh legs on the field. Ironically Morris and Roberts both got a short rest after being injured briefly. With Maryland’s backs being so fast, taking correct angles was crucial to avoid huge gains which RU was able to do for the most part. Give the linebackers and DBs credit for funneling plays to the middle, as they were beaten to the perimeter way too many times against Maryland in 2016.

Individual other player thoughts: Ross Douglas’s (4 tackles) versatility proved crucial again as he lined up as a strong side linebacker, slot corner, and may have even showed safety looks. This may have confused Bortenschlager as he probably thought he was seeing dime coverage at times. Eric Margolis and Brandon Russell did not see defensive action but true freshman C.J. Onyechi did. Onyechi had two tackles and made a few plays, though he was washed down completely a few plays as well. He blew past the tackle and was held which turned out to be the game as Maryland’s game tying score was wiped off the board. As he gets bigger and more experienced he should make some plays. Trevor Morris put up 11 tackles, to lead the team once again. He added a half sack and made the huge (and perfectly legal) hit in the 4th quarter that saved a first down, forced a punt that RU turned into the winning score, and took Bortenschlager out of the game. Deonte Roberts (9 tackles) got dinged up at one point, but luckily returned to help lead the final defensive stand.

When your two leading tacklers are your main linebackers, that usually is a recipe for success. This was a tough matchup as Maryland has so much speed coming out of the backfield as evidenced by their first touchdown on a play action pass to a back on the outside. The experience showed in this game as there were very few breakdowns. I wouldn’t venture to say any linebacker played awesome or any of them played poorly so the unit gets straight B’s which ain’t bad.

Secondary: B (Gray, Harris, Hayes, Hester, Wharton, Bailey)

Alignment: Rutgers mixed mostly between their base defense and occasional nickel. In the base defense Ross Douglas was playing a slot corner though, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to say they were in nickel the whole game. They did vary the looks a bit though which forced Maryland even in their no huddle offense to use a lot of play clock.

Assignment: Rutgers played press-man with Wharton and Hayes keeping safety help toward D.J. Moore at all times. Hester played against the tight end and even as a corner effectively against slot receivers.

Technique: Rutgers got beat on some slant routes and middle crossing patterns, but even the nice plays Maryland made down the sidelines were pretty well covered. Wharton did get flagged for a pass interference after being beat by a step late in the first half on a third and long. That simply can’t happen and as a result the team did not press on the final drive.

Individual other player thoughts: Hester (INT TD) played awesome and finally looked healthy though ESPN did not credit him with a tackle. It must have been the uniforms making it difficult to read the numbers because he broke up at least two passes and made a huge tackle on a play that Ty Johnson as the last line of defense. Kiy did drop a potential pick in the end zone that would have been his second of the game and iced it inside the last two minutes. Jawuan Harris (6 tackles, 2 PD) cleaned up plays when he needed to, including a nice run down of Jake Funk on a 53 yard run. K.J. Gray (4 tackles) was not spotted too much after his helmet to helmet collision with Hayes but did his job. The trio of Harris, Hester, and Gray is a pretty legit ballhawking group of safeties. Wharton was not credited with any stats though he was tested down the sideline a few times. Damon Hayes (6 tackles, 2 PD) made plays when he needed to, though he lost inside leverage at least once and was beat for a decent gain in the middle. Campbell didn’t see much time and may not have played defense at all because Dacoven Bailey saw snaps at slot corner. Bailey looked ok playing both ways plus special teams but hopefully as the calendar turns to 2018 the team has more depth in the defensive backfield.

The secondary was not tested as much as they could have been yet again as Maryland attempted 32 passes which is far from what most spread teams do. They did a pretty decent job even having to adjust personnel even before Gray and Hayes collided. It’s hard to expect more from the unit which is constantly battling a plethora of injuries, but this was neither their best nor worst game. McSorley next week may be the biggest test they face all year.

Coaching: B+

A week ago I was pretty harsh on the coaching staff, but they did a very good job in this game. The game plan coming in was to avoid big plays which Rutgers was able to do for the most part. They were basically doubling D.J. Moore all day which kept him from getting going until the final drive. This cannot be understated because the skills and speed of Moore were impressive at the end, if he had run wild earlier this would have been a different game.

For the second straight week, Rutgers was left scrambling when the opponent resorted to putting in a backup quarterback. Before that even happened, Dacoven Bailey was in at times as a slot corner. Bailey was not the only Knight to get more defensive reps than usual as the staff did an incredible job of getting guys in the game and they seemed fresh in key situations. The staff has their work cut out next week before what I expect will be a Purdue-esque game plan at Indiana the following week.

Effort: A-

This defense held in the final minute, a testament to their effort and excellent conditioning. A few plays I would have liked to see a little more gang tackling. I dropped down to an A- minus because it took Ash, the band, and the crowd going bonkers to give them a little extra juice. If this game was away, the results may not have been the same. They were all over the Maryland quarterbacks though even without major blitzing and hustle plays like Harris saving a TD on a 50 yard run may have given the team some much needed karma.

Overall grade: B

This was about as normal a college football game as you see these days. Both teams missed some opportunities, the refs missed a few calls, and it came down to the final drive with one team trailing by one score. Whichever team made the biggest plays in the 4th quarter won and today it was Rutgers. The team won the game and surrendering 24 points when the defense added 7 themselves is an above average showing. The defense is now a middle of the pack Big Ten defense trending in the right direction.

Three stars:

  1. Kiy Hester
  2. Kevin Wilkins
  3. Elorm Lumor

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS: Beating Maryland has so many ripple effects on and off the field.

Reasons for pessimism: 1. Why did the Terps not run more? 2. Rutgers defense gave up 218 yards passing to 3rd and 5th string QBs. 3. Teams will likely follow the Michigan blueprint, not the Maryland one. 4. What if Rutgers doesn’t get that pick six? 5. Dacoven Bailey has to play both sides of the ball now too? 6. Same as last week, Jawuan Harris possibly the team’s best DB, how did we even get to this point? 7. Eight pass completions won’t win many games. 8. If the inside run plays were slightly less effective RU may have been blown out. 9. Penn State will be pissed next week and Michigan State is even better than we thought 10. Forget about it!

Reasons for optimism: 1. The gaps in the Big Ten may not be as big as previously thought. 2. Rutgers bounced back from a few questionable calls. 3. Three Big Ten wins out of four, wow. 4. The team showed resiliency after a battle last week. 5. Rutgers had very few explosive plays and still won. 7. Maryland has playmakers and for the most part they were contained. 8. Gio continues to get healthier and it showed as he ran for 54 yards himself. 9. Janarion Grant didn’t even play. 10. This is the measuring stick for the Rutgers program and they were able to take care of business. 11. They won even rotating in extra guys on defense. 12. Every team is banged up and Rutgers has won three games without three and a half defensive starters with Turay effectively out (also Maddox-Williams, Hampton, and Austin).

Dave wonders, did RU’s home field advantage win this game?

Poll

How do you grade the Knights defense v Penn State?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    A: Just gave it their all, held the Heisman front runner to 35 rush yards!
    (38 votes)
  • 76%
    B: Solid effort, if Rutgers offense could do anything, might have been a game.
    (232 votes)
  • 6%
    C: Passing grade, but they need to be awesome.
    (20 votes)
  • 4%
    D: Just could not get stops in the second half.
    (13 votes)
  • 0%
    F: Terrible. (This may count our trollers).
    (2 votes)
305 votes total Vote Now