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Rutgers Football Game #1 Preview vs. Texas State

Bobcats come to town for first ever meeting between the schools.

Michigan v Rutgers
Excited to see Bless back in action.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Texas State (0-0; 0-0) At Rutgers (0-0; 0-0)

Where: Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey

Kick-off: Saturday, September 1st at 12:00 p.m. ET

Weather: 77 degrees, mostly cloudy with a 60% chance of rain, 6 mph winds

TV: BTN - Chris Vosters and Shaun O’Hara. For out-of-market channel finder, click here.

Stream: BTN2go

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, XM 210, WRSU 88.7-FM

Current Spread: Rutgers -16.5

Against The Spread: Rutgers 0-0; Texas State 0-0

Series History: The teams have never met.

SB Nation TSU site: Covered as part of Underdog Dynasty. Interview here.

Texas State Returning Statistical Leaders (2017 stats)

Passing: Willie Jones III - 18 for 37 pass attempts, 48.6%, 281 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: Anthony Taylor - 436 yards on 108 attempts, 4.0 ypc, 2 TD; Anthony Smith - 352 yards on 74 attempts, 4.8 ypc, 3 TD; Robert Brown Jr. - 305 yards on 77 attempts, 4.0 ypc; Willie Jones III - 168 yards on 43 attempts, 3.9 ypc

Receiving: Tyler Watts - 40 catches for 332 yards, 8.3 ypc, 2 TD; Hutch White - 15 catches for 196 yards, 13.1 ypc, 0 TD

Defense: Bryan London - 91 tackles, 3.0 for a loss, 0 sacks, 0 INT’s, 2 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries; Frankie Griffin - 74 tackles, 11.5 for a loss, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 recovered fumbles; A.J. Krawczyk - 74 tackles, 0 INT’s, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovered fumble

Kicking: James Sherman - 0 for 0 PAT’s, 5 for 7 FG attempts, Long of 38 yards

Texas State Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Texas State I Rutgers from 2017

Rutgers Advanced Stats Win Probability - 79% (per Football Study Hall)

What To Watch For

Kuhr’s revenge?

Current Texas State offensive coordinator Zak Kuhr coached running backs at Rutgers in 2016 for offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer. Mehringer came from Everett Withers’s staff at James Madison before he came to Texas State. So despite the Bobcats and Scarlet Knights never meeting on the field, there are some connections on the sidelines. Revenge always makes for a good storyline, but keep in mind that most of Kuhr’s personnel has graduated. Only Trey Sneed and Charles Snorweah remaining on the Rutgers roster at running back, so Kuhr won’t be able to help the Texas State defensive coaches much in their planning.

On the flip side, Kuhr practiced every day against Jay Niemann’s troops and Rutgers runs basically the same defense they did in 2016. Niemann has done a good job evolving the defense and coming up with game plan tweaks weekly, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. I’d expect Rutgers to play it pretty straight up, especially on early downs but have a wrinkle in reserve just in case they need to use it in an unexpectedly close game. Kuhr will look to take advantage of bland, base defenses on early downs.

Check out the full Bobcats SB Nation preview here.

Sitkowski watch

Head coach Chris Ash announced true freshman Art Sitkowski as the starting quarterback last week to keep the hype train rolling along. McNulty likes to take some deep shots and if Art can connect on a few early in the game it will do a lot for his confidence. Expect some rookie mistakes, but this matchup should be favorable enough to minimize their impact.

Texas State had zero, yes zero, interceptions in 2017. There’s almost no way that could happen again in 2018 by sheer law of averages, but it’s still a good matchup for Rutgers. Other than a Nathan Peterman-esque performance resulting in an embarrassing loss, fans should try and maintain an even keel after just one game with Sitkowski. Good luck with that though.

Battle On The Ground

With precipitation expected, both teams may plan to keep it on the ground, a lot. Vast NFL research shows that when defenses stack the box, offenses will struggle to run the ball no matter how many blockers they keep in. Of course NFL teams are more evenly matched than the combatants in most collegiate contests where one team often has superior talent. Though not a Power Five conference team and only finishing at 2-10 in 2017, Texas State was a top 40 team in the nation in stopping the run so Rutgers will probably not steamroll them. In theory, Rutgers should be able to move the ball on the ground enough with at least one of their backs to open up some one on one matchups in the passing game. If the Rutgers offense is forced to be one dimensional because Blackshear, Hilliman, Pacheco, or even Johnathan Lewis can’t move the chains, we’ll learn a lot about the new Texas State defensive backs real quick.

Rutgers front seven aggression

The Rutgers defensive line is surely the team’s thinnest unit. It will be a good test to see if Rutgers front four can hold the line against the Bobcats without needing blitzing linebackers to stymie the run or generate a pass rush. With an experienced secondary, Rutgers has some flexibility here. Ideally the linebackers can stay in read and react mode which is both what they do best individually and the preferred style of Ash/Niemann defense. Texas State allowed the second most tackles for loss in the nation last season, so does Rutgers push the envelope with blitzes or rely on guys like Kevin Wilkins and Jon Bateky to do the job on their own?

Texas State is led by a quarterback in Willie Jones III who showed more running ability than throwing skills in 2017, so there may be plenty of option running. They also return three running backs who will probably rotate to try and wear down the RU front.

Beware of the the blockhead

When a Power Five program lines up against a program of lesser prestige, there’s three ways things can go south. 1. The worst possible luck. 2. The underdogs possess a high flying passing game or run the triple option. 3. Blatant stubbornness results in a conservative game plan and not enough in game adjustments to minimize the chances of #1. It doesn’t seem Texas State has the firepower for #2, though in the first game you never know if they break out a deep passing or QB option attack. So the Rutgers coaching staff needs to find ways to put Sitkowski and other young players in low risk situations but also offer enough of a threat on deep balls, blitzes, special teams trickery to dictate the terms of this game. For example, don’t just throw Johnathan Lewis in there to disrupt the rhythm and run it three times into the line. If Giovanni Rescigno is pressed into service, hopefully McNulty has improved his passing skills to make him a true dual-threat or else there could be some tense moments late in the game.

For more detail on logistics, check out Jim’s post.