How To Watch, Stream & Listen
#7/#8 Washington At Rutgers
Where: High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, New Jersey
Kick-off: Friday, September 1st at 8:00 p.m. ET
TV: Fox Sports 1 with Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt, and Jenny Taft
Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, Eric LeGrand, and Anthony Fucilli - WCTC 1450-AM, ESPN NY 98.7-FM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, Sirius 84, XM 84
Current Spread: Washington -27.5
Series History: Washington leads 1-0 after winning last season’s opener 48-13.
Washington’s SB Nation site: UW Dawg Pound
Key Players For Washington
Jake Browning: Our David Brown gave a detailed look regarding the Huskies signal caller earlier this week. Last season, Browning threw for 3,430 yards, had a 62.1 completion rate, and passed for 43 touchdowns with just 9 interceptions. He torched Rutgers for three touchdown passes for 38 yards or more in the first quarter alone last season.
Myles Gaskin: He led the Huskies last season with 1,373 rushing yards and ran for 10 touchdowns. Gaskin averaged 5.8 yards per carry and also caught 17 receptions for 137 yards and a score out of the backfield in 2016. Rutgers did a good job containing him in last year’s matchup, as he ran for just 57 yards on 15 carries. However, most of his carries came after Washington had a big lead.
Lavon Coleman: As a bigger, bruising back compared to Gaskin, Coleman ran for 852 yards and led the team with an impressive 7.5 yards per carry last season. He also ran for 7 touchdowns. Coleman did not make much of an impact on last year’s game against Rutgers, producing only 7 yards on 3 carries.
Dante Pettis: On most teams, producing 15 receiving touchdowns would be major deal, but for Pettis, that total was only second behind John Ross, who caught 17 scores from Browning. With Ross now in the NFL, Pettis is the top receiving threat for Washington. Pettis caught 53 receptions for 822 yards as well in 2016, but only produced 2 catches for 24 yards against Rutgers. However, Pettis did return a punt 68 yards for a touchdown, one of two special teams scores that Rutgers allowed in the game. The other was a kickoff return by Ross.
Vita Vea: The best defensive lineman on the Huskies, Vea was second on the team with 5 sacks last season, one of which was against Rutgers. He is a disruptive force on the interior and the Rutgers offensive line must hold up and keep Vea away from Bolin and the backfield as much as possible. Vea needs to be contained if the run game is going to have success.
Greg Gaines: He helps form an effective 1-2 punch on the defensive line for Washington with Vea and was third on the team last season with 8 tackles for a loss, including 3.5 sacks.
Taylor Rapp: As a true freshman last season, the safety led the Huskies with 4 interceptions, including 2 in the PAC-12 Championship, with one being returned for a 35 yard score. He had 55 tackles on the season and is Washington’s top returning defensive back. Rapp was named the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2016.
Tristan Vizcaino: He was the punter and kickoff specialist last season, but is now the placekicker replacing Cameron Van Winkle, who was one of the best in Washington’s history. How Vizcaino performs under pressure on field goal and extra point attempts remains to be seen.
Chico McClatcher: After doing a solid job returning kicks and punts in 2015, McClatcher gave way for John Ross in the return game. He should be the primary returner this season and averaged 23+ yards on kickoff returns and 12 yards per punt return his freshman season. He is also now the second receiver on the depth chart for Washington and caught 3 receptions for 53 yards and a score against Rutgers last season.
Keys To A Rutgers Victory
Survive the 1st Quarter
After getting blown out in the opening frame of last season’s matchup, Rutgers must come out with composure and focus from the opening whistle. They cannot allow an explosive offense such as Washington’s to produce a few big plays early on, or they will get buried again. They need to keep Washington’s playmakers in front of them and force Browning to work to string together shorter pass plays. How Rutgers does against the run early on will tell us a lot about how this game will go. If they can enter the 2nd quarter within one score as a worst case scenario, it will be encouraging.
Minimize Big Plays from Washington
As I said before, Browning torched the defense for three big touchdown plays in the 1st quarter last season. It’s not realistic to think the Rutgers defense will be able to shut down the potent Huskies offense completely, but they need to force them into longer drives that eat up some clock. Force them into third down situations and put Browning on the spot to have to convert them. The defensive line of Rutgers must generate consistent pressure in this game or Browning will pick the defense apart for a second straight season. The good news is that the best pass rushing threat on the roster in Kemoko Turay was medically cleared to play on Wednesday. How effective he can be will be a major key for the defense.
Put Together Sustained Drives
On the flip side, Rutgers needs to win the time of possession in this game to keep it close. We all know converting even one first down on drives last season felt like a victory on its own, but new starting quarterback Kyle Bolin needs to show his accuracy and move the chains in this game, early and often. Establishing the running game with Gus Edwards and Robert Martin is also so important, as Kill will likely look to pound it early. How the Rutgers offensive line holds up against the powerful defensive line of Washington, particularly Vea and Gaines, will be essential to the success of the offense in this game. Rutgers did catch a break with the suspension of preseason All-American linebacker Azeem Victor, who wrecked havoc against them last season with 11 tackles.
Win Turnover Margin
It’s an obvious one, but head coach Chris Ash has spoke often in training camp about how much the staff have stressed the importance of Rutgers improving in this area. Washington clearly has more talent and depth, so for Rutgers to make this a game, they need to minimize mistakes and take advantage of any the Huskies do make. The secondary of Rutgers is the strength of the defense, so they need to make plays, both in preventing big rushing gains and not letting Browning torch them for long touchdowns through the air.
Get Janarion The Great Going
Call me captain obvious and just put this one on repeat for the entire season. While Rutgers has a lot more playmakers on offense this season, Grant is still the straw that stirs the drink for this team. His ability to score any time he touches the ball and the positive energy he brings to this team when makes a big play is priceless. Expect Kill to be creative in getting Grant the ball early and often in this game. They will want to get Grant a play or two quickly, perhaps even a handoff, so he can take a hit and hopefully shake off the rust, as well as any doubts in returning from last season’s ankle injury that cost him the last eight games of his 2016 campaign. How Grant responds to the mental part of his return from injury is key.
Freshmen Need To Hold Up
It’s equal parts exciting and terrifying that Rutgers is going to rely on so many true freshmen this season. There is no doubt they bring a lot of talent with them on the field, but it’s unrealistic to think that they won’t experience growing pains as well. Playing your first college football game under the lights on national television against a top ten team is asking a lot of them, but the reality is that Rutgers needs them to hold up in this game and play well. If someone like Bo Melton can make a big play early on, it could help the rest of the true freshmen to relax and believe they belong. They will also have a big impact on special teams and Rutgers needs their coverage units to play well after giving up two touchdowns to Washington in last season’s game.
After last season’s 35 point loss to Washington and coming into this game as a four touchdown underdog, no one should be expecting a victory on Friday. However, Rutgers has so many new players this season, there is legitimate hope this team will be much improved in 2017. While this game helps with preparing for playing in the brutal Big Ten East, it’s not ideal as the first matchup on the schedule. Regardless, I’m more concerned about how Rutgers looks from an eye test perspective in this game. They could play reasonably well, looking much better than last season and still lose by multiple scores against Washington. The longer Rutgers can keep it close and put pressure on the Huskies to execute, the more interesting this game will be. It’s never easy to play 3,000 miles away from home and Washington is replacing several key starters. However, how Rutgers and the many newcomers respond under the lights will tell us a lot about this team so early in the season.
The depth charts for both teams can be viewed here.
Our Q&A with UW Dawg Pound is here.