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Rutgers Football Game #7 Preview at Maryland

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Rutgers defeated Maryland in 2017, but huge underdogs in this one.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Rutgers
Wharton breaking up this pass to win the game feels so long ago.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers (1-5; 0-3) At Maryland (3-2; 1-1)

Where: Maryland Stadium, College Park, MD.

Kick-off: Saturday, October 13th at 12:01 p.m. EDT

Weather: 54 degrees, partly cloudy with a 15% chance of rain, 7 mph winds

TV: BTN Brandon Gaudin (play-by-play), Glen Mason (analyst) and Elise Menaker (reporter). Out-of-market channel finder.

Stream: BTN2go

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Eric LeGrand, Ray Lucas, and Anthony Fucilli - WCTC 1450-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, XM 384, Sirius 206 (Jake Ostrove, Stephen Nelson and Brad LoPrinzi)

Current Spread: Maryland -24

Against The Spread: Rutgers 2-4; Maryland 3-2

Series History: Maryland leads 7-6 all-time. Rutgers won 31-24 in 2017.

SB Nation UMd. site: Testudo Times

Maryland Statistical Leaders

Passing: Kasim Hill - 47 for 86 pass attempts, 54.7%, 578 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT. Tyrrell Pigrome - 6 for 11 pass attempts, 54.5%, 40 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT.

Rushing: Anthony McFarland - 325 yards on 36 attempts, 9.0 ypc, 2 TD; Ty Johnson - 303 yards on 45 attempts, 6.7 ypc, 2 TD; Tayon Fleet-Davis - 211 yards on 41 attempts, 5.1 ypc, 3 TD; Tyrrell Pigrome - 113 yards on 19 attempts, 5.9 ypc, 1 TD

Receiving: DJ Turner - 13 catches for 159 yards, 12.2 ypc, 1 TD; Taivon Jacobs - 13 catches for 137 yards, 10.5 ypc, 1 TD; Jeshaun Jones - 6 catches for 102 yards, 17.0 ypc, 1 TD; Jahrvis Davenport - 5 catches for 85 yards, 17.0 ypc, 1 TD;

Defense: Tre Watson - 34 tackles, 2.0 for a loss, 1 sack, 2 INT, 0 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recovery; Isaiah Davis - 24 tackles, 2.0 for a loss, 2 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 0 recovered fumbles, 0 pass defended; Antoine Brooks - 21 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 0 forced fumbles, 3 passes defended

Kicking: Joseph Petrino - 21 for 21 PAT’s, 3 for 3 FG attempts, Long of 40 yards

Maryland Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Maryland I Rutgers

What To Watch For

Energy

The fact that this game is on the road is probably a good thing for the Scarlet Knights who could use a break from the home cooking after losing three straight in Piscataway. Rutgers has only two things to play for: pride and improvement (other than the fact that football is really, really fun to play). So they could come out flat, but maybe a road game is what they need to rally a little bit from within.

The Terrapins are looking to bounce back after they couldn’t get much going until too little, too late at the Big House last weekend. Maryland trailed 27-7 after three quarters and were defeated 42-21. It was a humbling loss after the Terps walloped Minnesota 42-13 in their previous game AND had an extra week to prepare for the Wolverines. Maryland has been rather inconsistent this season, so it will be interesting to see how much they get up for a game that everyone is predicting will be ugly.

Speed, speed, speed

In a normal season, Maryland might have the worst passing attack Rutgers would face all year. In 2018 though, the Terps have plenty of company with the likes of Kansas, Illinois, and Texas State all of who make Indiana look like the Bill Walsh 49ers. Rutgers fans can relate to the struggle of completing passes to players in the same jersey, though they are improving (more on that next). And Maryland isn’t even on their 4th or 5th string quarterback like they were a season ago!

Unlike recent editions of the Scarlet Knights though, Maryland has adjusted by being a big time running team with a lot of success. They gauged Rutgers in the 2015 and 2016 finales with big runs which is not good for an RU squad that showed much of the same last week against Illinois. Speedster Ty Johnson is questionable with an unspecified injury, but there are plenty of other burners on the roster, Tayon Fleet-Davis having the best name of the bunch. Also unlike Rutgers, Maryland will use backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome in a change of pace package. Pigrome has carried the ball 19 times but only thrown it 11.

Speaking of ...

Sitkowski* watch

I added the asterisk to this regular section because some controversy erupted this week as Johnathan Lewis is getting time at Tight End, rather than quarterback. He got some snaps against Illinois at the position even though Tight End is arguably the best and deepest position on the Rutgers roster even with star Jerome Washington banged up. Personally, I say let’s see what Lewis can do as he throws the ball better than several QBs Rutgers has lost to in recent weeks. The argument is that Lewis is the third string QB and Art Sitkowski needs reps, but this team needs any kind of success it can get even if it does muddy the waters.

Sitkowski did some more nice things against Illinois, though he was not as good as the previous week overall on film. The last drive of the first half and opening drive of the second showed what Rutgers is capable of if they can get a defense on their heels. The chemistry with Shameen Jones and now Travis Vokolek is there while Bo Melton and Eddie Lewis already had it with Sitkowski. Art completed 29 of 46 passes for a career high 267 yards though he had three more interceptions. We keep hearing the coaches say that he’s starting to get it and with so many other of the mediocre Power 5 teams going run heavy, Rutgers may benefit longer term by zigging when everyone else is zagging. Until then, the coaching staff is taking a lot of lumps and heat because the fan base needs to see it to believe it.

Speaking of the coaches ...

What should we expect to be different in the game plan?

John McNulty seems to be figuring it out on offense, particularly when opponents go to basic cover 2 just hoping Sitkowski will throw a pick. Art has picked apart soft coverage underneath, though Rutgers offense seems to get too many penalties and lacks a deep threat to make up for it. McNulty will do a mix of run and pass to try and keep the defense off balance which works well when RU can execute. I also liked some never before seen formations last week like the full house backfield and the wide receiver motion that went behind the quarterback AND running backs. McNulty has not reduced the playbook to just a few plays or been too vanilla each week.

On the flip side, Jay Niemann and Chris Ash seem to be out of answers on defense. When they are talking about how the lack of depth may be causing players to get too comfortable getting playing time, that’s about as bad as it gets. I saw a good point in defense of Niemann earlier this week, that he doesn’t teach poor technique. I may have been slacking in evaluating assignment, alignment, and technique like I did every game last year, but it’s true that the same players who have been praised in the past are not getting the job done in 2018 particularly at linebacker and safety. For players with experience that seemingly have Sunday aspirations it has been a huge disappointment. All of a sudden you don’t unlearn how to tackle in the same defense you have run for the last three years. How many times does Rutgers lose contain and no one else is in position to help out? I felt like I watched the same game Saturday and Sunday as the Denver Broncos had a very similar performance at the Meadowlands.

“Special” teams

Justin Davidovicz injured himself in warm ups before the Illinois game and it had a pretty big impact, even though he did come out for a chip shot field goal in the second half. The kick brought the deficit down to two scores which was critical to Rutgers staying in the game. Gavin Haggerty nailed two extra points, but could not connect on his lone field goal attempt and perhaps Davidovicz was feeling better as the game went along. The bigger impact was on kickoffs as Davidovicz is a touchback machine, but Haggerty allowed three returns. None went for huge yardage luckily, but Illinois got great starting field position to open the game in particular. It will be cold, windy, and possibly raining this weekend in College Park so kicking may become difficult. Johnson if he plays is a monster on kick returns, averaging 29.5 yards per with one TD.

Maryland has only attempted three field goals this season, converting all three, the longest being 40 yards. So if the game remains close, Joseph Petrino and the rest of the kicking unit may be put to the test. Rutgers field goal block is one of the team’s strengths right now. Petrino is just a freshman.

Adam Korsak continues to impress, averaging 44.8 yards on 4 punts last week. He did his best to flip field position, but it didn’t end up mattering in the end. Rutgers has an edge at the punter spot, even though Wade Lees has improved in his third season, averaging 42.2 yards per kick last week, slightly up from his season average.

Final Thoughts

Is it possible Rutgers wins? Yes, even though they are 24?!?!?!? point underdogs. This may be a painful game to watch, because the Scarlet Knights biggest rival at the moment is really not an awesome football team. Maryland is a legit Power 5 football team though which is a lot more than can be said of Rutgers at this point in time. Like Kansas and Illinois, Maryland’s strength is their run game while the Scarlet Knights’s biggest weakness is their run defense.

IF Rutgers can somehow cut down on the big plays allowed, this game may stay close. IF Rutgers offense can go two steps forward without that one step back and IF Maryland doesn’t all of a sudden turn into the ballhawking defense, the Scarlet Knights should be able to at least cover the spread. Then with a little luck, the sky might not be falling in Piscataway for one week. That is a lot of IFs, but stranger things have happened.

I mean it is Game 7 ...