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Rutgers Football defensive report card v. Eastern Michigan

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Don’t blame the defense for the L.

Eastern Michigan v Rutgers
Fatukasi got defensive snaps.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The first game has come and gone, only 10 more of these this year. I removed the asterisk since a bowl is likely out of the question now. Playoffs? We are just trying to win a game! Same as last week (Week 1 here) as 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. Let us know how you feel about the defensive performance with our poll and in the comments below.

Defensive Line: A- (Turay, Lumor, Davis, Wilkins, Joseph-Day, Previlon, Turner)

Alignment: Not much to say in this one. Rutgers was in mostly 40 fronts with very little blitzing. I didn’t see Wiafe in there since his role is a run stuffer, but everyone else rotated in.

Assignment: For the most part the defensive line did their job in getting penetration and forcing quick throws. Nothing fancy was required to slow down the Eagles run game.

Technique: The offseason #1 focus was run defense and it was solid once again even with often only 4 or 5 guys near the line. Rutgers made minor adjustments to have the defensive line at times delay their pass rush and instead hold their gaps longer in the event EMU did attempt a run. This did not allow for many sacks, but those wouldn’t have come anyway because he was getting the ball out so quick. The coverage (and Roback) didn’t give them any time to get coverage sacks unlike the fellas on the other side ...

Individual other player thoughts: Previlon again looked good and got the team’s one sack even though it was on a broken run play. Turner had one offsides, but it didn’t end up mattering. Wilkins showed his NFL talent by blowing up several plays before getting dinged up on an illegal cut block below the knee, let’s hope it’s not serious. Joseph-Day played perhaps his best game on the banks. He totally answered the bell after not being one of the stars in the Washington game. His forced fumble was nice to see RU finally get a turnover. Turay was fine with four tackles and even recovered that fumble. He didn’t have as much pressure on the QB based on the aforementioned reasons.

You can’t get sacks when the QB is throwing on 3 and 5 step drops unless someone is completely unblocked in the middle. For the most part I couldn’t even tell who was playing on the line because of how EMU had to abandon the run almost entirely early in the game. When they did run, it was usually just a pile up at the line. Only reason for the minus was that they were unable to knock down passes or simply make more plays. Good teams find ways to get sacks even in a minimal set of opportunities. Turns out this unit thought to be the team’s weakest, might actually be its strength.

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Rutgers
Previlon is a playmaker on the defensive line.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers: B+ (Morris, Roberts, Douglas)

Alignment: The linebackers were almost non-existent in this game, something often said more at the NFL level. EMU’s spread forced Rutgers to play mostly nickel defense (4-2-5), in which Roberts and Morris played while the SAM (Douglas) watched from the sideline. The one blemish was Roberts and the unit not being ready on the pooch punts by Roback as well as having to call another timeout when EMU was in something like 2nd and 20 from their own 10 yard line. Otherwise, they were usually set even when EMU went true hurry up.

Assignment: Roberts and Morris played a lot of downs, but were not often in precarious coverage situations because EMU was almost always keeping Shaq Vann, their running back, in to block. The linebackers were clogging the field in middle defensive zones which forced so many outside throws. Excellent job this week.

Technique: Morris, the goat of week 1 played well, possibly even tremendous if I were to watch him specifically. He had 8 tackles and I’m not sure if he missed any as he, Roberts, and Douglas in limited action maintained their assignments well.

Individual other player thoughts: Ross Douglas showed up (7 tackles in limited action). Trevor Morris did too. Roberts (8 tackles) was the steady presence this team did not have in 2016. Fatukasi got at least one defensive snap.

To earn an A, this unit needs to make some more plays to kill drives like interceptions or tackles for loss. This week was pretty close and probably the one reason for optimism going into next week.

Eastern Michigan v Rutgers
Douglas played a nice game.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Secondary: C+ (Austin, Hampton, Hayes, Hester, Wharton, Gray)

Alignment: The plan was pretty simple. The SAM linebacker or nickel corner usually played tight end. So Hampton was matched up off the line against the slot receiver. Conventional football has the strong safety on the tight end, but with Rutgers flexibility with Hampton and Hester at safety, they were able to mix it up.

Assignment: Let’s face it, Eastern Michigan dropped a lot of passes, especially in the first half. The Chris Ash cover 4 (great article here) was obviously understood by EMU coaches and their QB, so they were forced into a lot of deep sideline throws which are both the hardest to complete but also hardest to intercept.

Technique: Hayes and Hampton got burned badly on a bomb after the hit on KJ Gray. Then Hayes got called for ANOTHER PI on the following play which set up EMU for their final points on the day. Austin made it an easier field goal try when he was beaten on a 3rd and 7. There were plenty of other times guys got beat which will be broken down more in this week’s defensive film review. There were plenty of other pass breakups and tackling was pretty good overall.

Individual other player thoughts: Wharton was unable to build on his week 1 performance as he was beaten at least three times in a major way. The second time he was bailed out by Joseph-Day’s forced fumble. Wharton is now the 3rd corner really even though he plays outside in the nickel. Hayes was constantly involved, sometimes with positive results and others not. Gray simply always seems to be on the wrong end of a big block or a step too slow. Hester played pretty well, but had a key missed tackle on what would have forced a third and long with about 9 minutes left in the game. In the grand scheme it didn’t matter as Rutgers still had time for two offensive drives to tie or win the game afterward. Austin didn’t play his best game, but usually was not the one getting picked on.

The grade has to be a C+ based on the talent of this unit. Roback was a clinician in avoiding pressure without a ton of time or scrambling. Despite only 16 points, he impressed me more than any quarterback Rutgers faced in the last two years. Some of that could be attributed to the defense, especially the DBs, let us know what you think in the comments section.

Eastern Michigan v Rutgers
Hayes did a lot of woofing with mixed results.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Coaching: B

The first half of this game was bizarre as there were flags everywhere, make up calls, dropped passes, general disorganization by Rutgers. The disorganization proved costly as they did allow a field goal to close the first half which ended up being a killer in a 3 point defeat. You can’t go A because Rutgers didn’t win, but Jay Niemann delivered another good enough game plan. Eastern Michigan was 0 for their first 9 third downs at least. Their first conversion came on their third drive of the second half and it was a bad one. A third and 16 from their own 31, but it was inevitable.

Other reason for no A was the staff was outfoxed with EMU’s pooch kicks and other wrinkles you see from a well organized team. These had tangible impacts, like having to burn a timeout on a 4th and 10 with EMU in their own territory, come on people. These are the type of things Rutgers needs to do when they are physically outmatched. Rutgers may look to change up third down strategy to stay ahead of the curve, but it surely was effective most of this game.

Effort: A-

With a few lucky bounces in the 4th quarter, Rutgers could and should have won this game until zeroes remained on the clock. I had previously wanted to give a B, but needed to upgrade after weighing how huge that last stand was by the defense. Your offense blows a chance to tie or take the lead by throwing an interception and pinning you at your own 5. There is no margin for error because a TD wins the game. Not only did RU keep the Eagles out of the end zone, they blocked the ensuing chip shot field goal attempt. That took tremendous heart and showed they never gave up.

Overall grade: B

I actually did not see the video live as I was travelling internationally and only had some internet updates. So prior to watching the replay on BTN, I expected based on data alone the defense would grade out somewhere in the B range.

Eastern Michigan’s offense is pretty good and as our defensive coordinator would say when I was a player if we gave up a touchdown, especially on the first drive, “Hey, they practice all week, too.” Rutgers kept a pretty good team, albeit a non-power 5, to only 16 points in an era when all the rules are geared to benefit the offense. Coaches and the front seven were all solid, the only blemish was on the DBs who struggled at times.

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS: This game was clearly lost by the Rutgers offense, not the defense. And I know I am supposed to stay in my swim lane, but it was not due to Jerry Kill’s playcalling. (Those who avidly read the site and comments know I am usually the first to complain about it). CAPTAIN OBVIOUS #2: Janarion Grant is also amazing at football and has an incredible desire on the field.

What we learned that will apply next week

Reasons for pessimism: EVERYTHING. Ok, that was impulsive and hardly does the trick. 1. Rutgers has lost 11 straight games. 2. Eastern Michigan played to win with passion, Rutgers did not. 3. The “NFL caliber” DBs were unimpressive. 4. Linebackers played well, but were not much of a factor. When they are, can they keep it up? 5. Defensive line, particularly Turay, was neutralized by quick throws. 6. One turnover through two games. 7. Again, Rutgers has not won in 11 tries. 8. What does this defense need to do, shut out a group of five team to get a win? 9. Are we sure that was no Hayden Rettig in an EMU jersey playing QB? 10. What if EMU didn’t drop so many passes, would RU have been blown out?

Reasons for optimism: 1. Roback has an amazing arm, and I think will play in the NFL combined with his football IQ. It’s not a joke that he impressed me more than any other QB RU faced in the last two years (though 2016 Browning was pretty good). McSorley is also better this year ... whoops switched to pessimism again. 2. The defensive line showed up again so week 1 was likely not a fluke. 3. The linebackers did bounce back. 4. Again, in college football these days you should not expect to hold really anybody competent (or functional) under 20 points. 5. The DBs had their first real test so they should bounce back with some real film to look at. 6. Coaching has been solid. 7. This defense gave up 28 to New Mexico last year yet only 16 to EMU this year. There should not be another 78-0. And i wouldn’t have expected it after allowing only 14 to Iowa last year either. Never say never (especially as a Mets / Jets / Nets / Rutgers fan). 8. Janarion Grant and yes I know he does not play defense.

Seriously, losing to a directional Michigan at home? AAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Poll

How do you grade Rutgers Defense v the Eagles?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    A: The defense did virtually everything they could.
    (90 votes)
  • 51%
    B: RU passed the eye test against a rocket armed, QB.
    (270 votes)
  • 22%
    C: They were ok, but need more turnovers, drive killing plays.
    (117 votes)
  • 7%
    D: Unless you win, can’t be better than a D, especially when you look disorganized.
    (38 votes)
  • 0%
    F: Only a shutout garners a passing grade, especially against a non power 5 team.
    (5 votes)
520 votes total Vote Now