Three down, nine to go as we are already a quarter of the way through the season. Same format 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, especially when so many guys participated in this tilt. Let us know how you feel about the defensive performance with our poll and in the comments below.
Defensive Line: A- (Turay, Lumor, Davis, Joseph-Day, Previlon, Turner, Wilkins, Griggs)
Alignment: The defensive line was simply dominant (as they should have been), playing mostly 40 fronts. I saw somewhere Rutgers was really a 3-4 defense at this point, but it was hard to say at first glance if there was any difference.
Assignment: Rutgers lined up man on man and didn’t allow any gaping holes as gap assignment was as sound as it could possibly be. With so many players in green jerseys last week at practice, it comes as no surprise they kept it simple.
Technique: In a game like this, it takes discipline to hold your position rather than getting upfield. Once a hole is clogged, it takes more discipline to avoid over pursuit. This unit played pretty well.
Individual other player thoughts: Bateky and Hogan are still injured and did not play, Wilkins was limited. Myles Nash played both ways (5 tackles, plus a catch on ‘O’) and deserves recognition. Bordner was in uniform though still expected to redshirt. Seeing BB, Vokolek, and J. Lewis on the sideline after Lewis’s first TD, man these dudes are big. Previlon (3 tackles) is a keeper. Turner (2 tackles) has also earned rotational playing time and I forgive his illegal block in the back. Not sure on their snap counts, but Joseph ( 1 tackle for loss) and Turay (0 tackles) weren’t overly visible other than Turay recovering a fumble for the second time in as many weeks. Lumor (1 QB hit) may be a sleeper. Davis made a mistake with a facemask, but more than made up for it with his forced fumble later that was determined to be a sack. Davis had 10 tackles (1.5 for loss) as a D-lineman which is rare plus a forced another fumble that was not called back. Resiliency was contagious as several other players in other units also made amends for their mistakes. Rutgers is not a good team so they need to be able to show tangibly that they learn over the course of the season, in games being a bonus.
Overall, this unit set the tone for this entire game. The improvements in the run game will be tested in Big Ten play, but so far the results have been as good as anyone could have expected. Against the pass, it will be interesting to see how they react when there are critical passing situations since this game had very few. If there was one disappointment from this game it was that there was less pass rush than you would like to see.
Linebackers: A (Morris, Roberts, Douglas, Margolis, Fogg, Battle, Fatukasi, Russell, Rosa)
Alignment: For the second week in a row, the linebackers were almost non-existent in this game for the first half. This time though second teamers made plays as everybody was rotating in it seemed. Most of the game Rutgers was in a 40 nickel, meaning the MIKE (Roberts, 5 tackles) and WILL (Morris, 4 tackles) stayed on the field flanked by a third cornerback.
Assignment: Nothing fancy here really. To the naked eye, it looked like RU was just reading and reacting on defense. It will take a deeper dive to see if gap assignments stayed consistent or there was much switching. One example was on the corner blitzes where assignments would naturally shift over one gap. It seemed wherever the crease opened up a linebacker was there, though not always needing to make the tackle with the linemen hustling from behind.
Technique: The entire group kept their arms free in the run game. When in zone pass coverage they held their spots also, resulting in an interception by Tyshon Fogg who reacted after the pass was thrown to a different zone to get a tipped pick as well as Rashawn Battle who read another play perfectly to record his INT. Jay Niemann may not show much film of this game and instead opt for teaching moment clips from the first two games instead to prepare for the Huskers.
Individual other player thoughts: Ross Douglas didn’t see much time (2 tackles) due to the nickel packages and naturally his backup Eric Margolis did not either. Trevor Morris pulled a Hester and whiffed on a tackle also, but was generally solid. Austin Rosa was sighted on special teams and I believe Hester’s INT that was called back. Deonte Roberts simply was too good and athletic, stuffing every play where he was responsible. Tyshon Fogg seems to have that “it factor” where plays seem to go well when the ball is in his area. Rashawn Battle is still pretty raw but his size and speed like Fogg’s are impressive. Fatukasi (2 tackles) has already proven his athleticism on special teams, but did not get much time at LB because I think he works primarily at the SAM spot. I thought I saw Brandon Russell also, in his usual fundamentally sound form.
Last week I said, “to earn an A, this unit needs to make some more plays to kill drives like interceptions or tackles for loss.” They did in this one. Still the weakest unit on the team (potentially outside of quarterback) there are plenty of bodies finally and it would not be a surprise to see the rotation change a little bit. Fogg (5 tackles, INT) did not make as big a splash as Lewis on the other side of the ball, but he seems like he has to play in some capacity.
Secondary: A- (Austin, Hampton, Hayes, Hester, Wharton, Gray, Campbell, Marfo, Stevens, Garvin)
Alignment: The plan was pretty simple, very often out of the more traditional 40 nickel, featuring three corners and two safeties, Wharton was playing the slot with Hayes on the outside. This was already in flight in Week 2, but a complete reversal from Week 1. We had heard of possibly seeing three safety looks at times (a la Harmon, McCourty, and Chung in New England), but I don’t recall seeing it in this game.
Assignment: Rutgers played press-man coverage which is what I wanted to see as a fan. Make these Morgan State receivers beat you, and they didn’t very much. I did see some nickel corner blitzes from Wharton, but each time it ended up being a running play. It looked like Hampton (or Gray) was playing a deep, centerfield-like role while Hester was more of a rover. That could have been a product of Morgan State’s formation, but it played into RU’s hands as Hester is at his best when he is free to make plays.
Technique: Though he would come up with another INT later, Hester dropped at least one earlier and totally whiffed on a tackle in the hole that resulted in Morgan State’s longest running play of the day, albeit 7 yards. Pass coverage was pretty solid, the minor breakdowns coming when Morgan State QBs were able to get outside the pocket.
Individual other player thoughts: Wharton showed up, especially from the slot in the run game. Gray looks a half step quicker resulting in 7 tackles, hopefully it’s a sign of more development and not just the opponent. Zane Campbell (5 tackles) would be a nice player for a non Power 5 team and excel in FCS. Did Saquon Hampton even play? The ball never seemed to get near him. Kobe Marfo sighting! Hester showed his talent.
The grade here is tough because MSU ran only approximately 60 plays. 23 resulted in passing attempts for a paltry 65 yards. I was thinking B+ initially, but when they complete 8 to their guys and 3 to yours, how much better can you be?
Though I didn’t call for the shut out game plan, it happened anyway by design or not. The staff did a good job rotating in younger players at all three levels and the group did not miss a beat. This grade really should be a TBD because the key will be utilizing what was learned about younger players and more tactically how Rutgers will slow down true dual threats. On a few plays the Morgan State QBs got outside the pocket, if they had more athletic ability OR receivers that could have gotten open like a P5 squad, they would have moved the ball. Six first downs allowed and holding them to 4-18 on third down? The 3rd down defense continues to be strong overall.
This was the toughest grade to assign which is probably a good thing. Credit for extra effort on tipped balls, defensive backs collapsing down on running plays. The reason for not going higher was that defensive line had maybe one coverage sack? When compared with the energy of the offense and even special teams (who knew) defense was the least emotional of the three. But I mean 2.2 yards per carry, there were virtually zero plays where RU D was caught sleepwalking or not playing to the whistle.
Overall grade: A
This was refreshing, and I deserve some crow for doubting Rutgers defense even against a team that still has not scored all season. No matter how inept Morgan State was on offense, it was still a shutout filled with four turnovers. No reason for a an A+ when that is only deserved when the D holds up in a critical point of a game, this didn’t have any of those. And other than the specific two I mentioned, no mention of tackling. That is always a good thing.
CAPTAIN OBVIOUS: This game was simply a laugher. Morgan State played hard but were no match. I mean how many defenders did it take to tackle Lewis and Rescigno, minimum 3, sometimes 5?
What we learned that will apply next week
Reasons for pessimism: 1. Rutgers is still 1-11 in their last 12. 2. Rutgers has not beaten an FBS opponent in 365 days. 3. Until they show show me a B1G win ... 4. Linebackers simply weren’t exposed other than the 2nd half v/ Washington. 5. Defensive line only had one sack? 6. Those turnovers were lucky tip drills. 7. I repeat, we need to see a “legit” turnover. 8. Even though they are also 1-2, it’s still Nebraska next week, in Lincoln. 9. Did we actually learn anything about the Rutgers offense? 10. Ok, no need for 10 this week, it was the showing the fans needed.
Reasons for optimism: 1. Though Ray Lucas talked up the B1G, Rutgers isn’t the only team out to a slow start. 2. Defense allowed 145 yards. 3. Defense allowed zero points. 4. Again, in college football these days you should not expect to hold really anybody to zero no matter how dysfunctional. 5. The DBs were playing an inferior opponent but the longest play allowed was only 22 yards. 6. The longest run allowed was only 7 yards. 7. You asked for turnovers and the defense delivered. 8. The defense could have had more turnovers, so a few lucky bounces against a non- Top 25 B1G team ... 9. Rutgers offense actually showed life. 10. Nebraska is 1-2 and lost to N. Illinois, they might be worse than Rutgers. 11. Had RU scored a late TD to beat EMU and had the same result against Morgan St to be 2-1, the fan base would have been more optimistic than any point since 2014? 2006? 1976? 1961? ever?
Dave wonders ... Can Rutgers defense stop Lewis running in practice when they go full contact?
How do you grade Rutgers defense v. Morgan State?
This poll is closed
A: What more can you do?
B: Strong, but not perfect enough.
C: Lucky, you played a team that hadn’t scored all year.
D: The lack of scoring was all Morgan St dysfunction.