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Rutgers Football Game #3 Preview at Kansas

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Both teams enter the contest 1-1, one will leave with momentum.

Kansas v Rutgers
Tight ends moving the chains may be a key in this one.
Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers (1-1; 0-1) At Kansas (1-1; 0-0)

Where: Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, KS.

Kick-off: Saturday, September 15th at 12:00 p.m. EDT (11:00 a.m. local)

Weather: 83 degrees, mostly cloudy with a 14% chance of rain, 6 mph winds

TV: MSG+ in the New York area (other FOX regional affiliate elsewhere); Brendan Burke (play-by-play), David Anderson (analyst - the former Colorado State wideout, not me unfortunately) and Christian Steckel (reporter)

Stream: MSG Go, FOX Sports Go

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, and Anthony Fucilli - WCTC 1450-AM, ESPN NY 98.7-FM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, XM 199, Sirius 137. WRSU 88.7-FM (Justin Sontupe and Sam Marsdale)

Current Spread: Kansas -3

Against The Spread: Rutgers 1-1; Kansas 1-1

Series History: Rutgers leads 1-0. (2015)

SB Nation KU site: Rock Chalk Talk

Kansas Statistical Leaders

Passing: Peyton Bender - 36 for 61 pass attempts, 59.0%, 317 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT. Miles Kendrick - 3 for 4 pass attempts, 75.0%, 27 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT.

Rushing: Pooka Williams Jr. - 125 yards on 14 attempts, 8.9 ypc, 2 TD; Khalil Herbert - 90 yards on 21 attempts, 4.3 ypc, 0 TD; Dom Williams - 67 yards on 16 attempts, 4.2 ypc, 0 TD; Deron Thompson - 32 yards on 4 attempts, 8.0 ypc, 0 TD

Receiving: Kerr Johnson Jr. - 7 catches for 122 yards, 17.4 ypc, 2 TD; Steven Sims Jr. - 8 catches for 59 yards, 7.4 ypc, 1 TD; Stephon Robinson - 4 catches for 43 yards, 10.8 ypc, 0 TD;

Defense: Joe Dineen Jr. - 30 tackles, 0.5 for a loss, 0 sacks, 1 INT’s, 0 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries; Keith Loneker Jr. - 18 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, 1 sack, 0 forced fumbles, 0 recovered fumbles, 0 passes defended; Bryce Torneden - 12 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 INT’s, 0 forced fumbles, 1 recovered fumble, 0 TD

Kicking: Gabriel Rui - 5 for 5 PAT’s, 3 for 4 FG attempts, Long of 54 yards

Kansas Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Kansas I Rutgers

Rutgers Advanced Stats Win Probability (FPI) - 56% (per Football Study Hall)

What To Watch For

Sitkowski watch

Week 3 of the true freshman quarterback watch has a different take as it’s all about his health. It seems half the questions in press conferences, on social media, and overall chatter revolve around this topic. While rewatching the game, my dad was pretty insistent that Sitkowski was dinged up a little bit on a hit much earlier in the game and it just got worse with every pop. Assuming he is okay health wise the rest of the way, Rutgers has a chance to win a few games. Make no mistake, Sitkowski’s ability to complete passes and place the ball on timing routes is what sets him apart. Particularly with Sitkowski, the Scarlet Knight passing attack has higher upside than Kansas does if they can get it going. On the flip side, Rutgers has a lower floor, too since their wideouts are less proven.

Even if Art isn’t 100% this week, Rutgers could win this game against Kansas with Gio. If Rescigno has to play a lot both teams will probably employ almost identical tactics of running with an occasional pass to shorten the game and let the best men win. Ohio State defensive backs didn’t always jam and bailed instead at times, but it was the possibly alone that disrupted Rutgers enough. The wideouts might be more prepared this week after being able to digest it. Even if they are not, as I told Rock Chalk Talk, Rutgers can reduce pressure on their offensive line, receivers, and quarterbacks if some rapport can be developed with tight ends. Against OSU, the TEs had to help block a lot while against TSU the focus was on getting the wide receivers going. Jerome Washington, Nakia Griffin-Stewart and seemingly Travis Vokolek can catch the ball if thrown in their general direction, we know this. Expect McNulty to keep that in reserve until he absolutely needs to lean on it, which hopefully won’t even be this week. By then Daevon Robinson might already be the best of the bunch.

Can Rutgers offensive line open some holes?

In last week’s game, the Ohio State Buckeyes only needed a four man rush to generate pressure. In the run game, Ohio State was disrupting where Rutgers wanted to go with the ball, particularly Robert Landers who only weighs about 280. Daniel Wise is an NFL prospect for the Jayhawks, but he is not Nick Bosa nor is every other guy on the line a four star prospect at minimum. The opportunity is there for redemption.

What Rutgers did in 2017 to regroup was shrink the playbook and allow their linemen to focus on a particular set of plays. With all John McNulty’s shifts, he could easily mask the fact that Rutgers is running a smaller subset of actual plays out of a lot of different sets. I don’t particularly recommend this strategy, but do recommend establishing an identity on the ground. Once Kansas abandoned the pass last week and their offensive line simply knew it was all run with an occasional quick pass thrown in, they were much more effective. This is far from the first time a team benefitted from more focus particularly in the run game and won’t be the last.

Mike Lonsdorf has not come up in much injury talk this week so he might actually play at left guard. If not, Sam Vretman seemed to get the nod in that spot and by my eye outperformed Nick Krimin. Both are still young for linemen and the next few games will be extremely influential in how the fan base feels AJ Blazek is developing linemen. It seems the team is recruiting offensive line as good as any other position group, but jury is out on the development side. Kamaal Seymour is viewed as a success story, but is far from a consistently good Big Ten right tackle.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Ohio State
The inevitable was hard to swallow last week.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

“Special” teams

During his Press Conference, head Kansas coach David Beaty noted how much the field position battle was an uphill climb for his team a season ago. Central Michigan did not have much distance on kickoffs and went for a lot of punt blocks. Even though Kansas was not ready for rugby style punts from the Chippewas, they avoided any turnovers and won the field position battle in the game. The Kansas placekicker did hit a 54 yarder this year, but the Jayhawks punted a few times on the edge of field goal range after he missed a 39 yarder. They may be in for a rude awakening from Rutgers in one or all areas.

For the criticism he got from some sources, I thought Adam Korsak was fine. Second career game, in the horseshoe and the punt returner McCall muffed two of the first three. He couldn’t muff the other because Rutgers was called for fair catch interference. Ohio State had a nice return or two, but with so many opportunities it was bound to happen that Rutgers would miss a few tackles. If Justin Davidovicz can force touchbacks so Kansas has 75 yards to go minimum on every drive, Rutgers should be in the driver’s seat.

Pooka Williams Jr., star in the making?

Anthony “Pooka” Williams brought in the words of Chris Ash during his press conference, “a different element to their offense.” He continued later, “[Williams] has a chance to take it to the house. He’s really quick, he has good speed.” Williams is a true freshman who was ranked as a four-star prospect out of Louisiana by several sources. Despite the high ranking, 247 reported he only held six scholarship offers, three in the Power 5 including LSU. So the assessment of his potential ranged quite a lot.

Per the film breakdown earlier in the week, Williams impressed with 125 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries against Central Michigan. It will be interesting to see how much his workload increases against the Scarlet Knights. Don’t be surprised if he catches more than one pass for eight yards like he did last week. Kansas’s offensive line kept it super simple last week and relied on Williams and the other backs to make plays. They should have to try to do more to exploit Rutgers.

Especially wearing jersey #1, I had a few Dri Archer flashbacks the last few days. Williams is somewhere between Archer and what Raheem Blackshear was last year. It’s hard to say for sure because he only has 14 college carries! Pooka looks small but packs a pretty good punch with an ability to accelerate into another gear at will even with a cut thrown in. He could be really, really good.

NCAA Football: Texas State at Rutgers
Lumor has played well this season and stats show it.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Pass Rush Please

One of my favorite laughs in the Horseshoe was hearing Matt Millen talk about how Elorm Lumor was the best defensive player Rutgers has with Trevor Morris second. Maybe for one game, but prior to this season Lumor was nothing but potentially having potential, he never really made you even sure he had it. After a monster game against Texas State, Lumor kept his foot on the gas, undressing Ohio State linemen at least twice. Now that it starts to feel like Rutgers has a pass rusher to build around, how do they play off of it?

Rutgers stopped the Buckeye run game enough early in the contest to make you feel like a lesser opponent would have really struggled. Jon Bateky played an excellent game against both the run and pass, drawing two holding penalties to negate big gains. So if I were Kansas I would double team Bateky (after realizing you can’t just chip him) and force Kevin Wilkins to beat me around the outside. Kansas’s offensive tackles seem tall and agile, plus willing to let a defender’s momentum work against him like Steven Seagal’s aikido moves.

So Jay Niemann who usually comes up with good game plans will probably combat it with Lumor and Bateky doing more of what they have been doing. Then Kevin Wilkins should use his strength to try to mostly bull rush to disrupt the pocket which he should be able to do by staying low with his freakish strength. Then mixing up a 5th rusher coming from the inside alongside Julius Turner or his backups or outside of Lumor / Wilkins should work effectively as Kansas has not been great in pass protection. The lack of time has caused most Kansas pass routes to be simple slant passes to any receiver not being jammed at the line, something experienced Rutgers defensive backs may feast on. I have been very hard on Saquan Hampton and Trevor Morris over the years, but both may have played the best games of their careers the last two weeks and should find themselves unblocked a lot against a zone scheme.

Final Thoughts

Writing this preview was difficult because this is one of those games where it all might go out the window; my gut feel is that only one team will show up for this game. It’s almost a straight coin toss as to which one that is. I’m sure glad Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren are not interrogating me for facts to support that feeling.

Kansas has momentum off a win, while Rutgers has practically zero as Sitkowski and Bless Austin battle injury issues among others. That being said, the level of competition Rutgers faced last week is far and away better than Central Michigan. Even independent of the competition this matchup is simply not a good one for Kansas schematically unless they can significantly improve in the pass game. So other than the game being away (which actually might be better than fans who may lose interest if RU was to go down early) or Pooka being ineligible again, Rutgers asking for anything more going into this game would be plain greedy. This is why you scheduled Kansas.

Let’s face it, Kansas is a tough place to build a program. It’s big yet only 33rd in population (New Jersey is 11th) and they have won only four games in the last 4 years. But if Rutgers decides not to show up for this game, they will probably lose unless somehow Kansas forgets how to play also. Even if both teams try to give it away, Kansas will play like Illinois in 2016 and we know how that went. One thing that gave me even more confidence is how little Jayhawk fans believe David Beaty will make the right decisions in a close game. For all the criticism bestowed on Chris Ash, Rutgers has seemed to perform better and better each time they are actually in a close game in his tenure. Not every game has been close, but in the ones that are the coaches haven’t been the ones to blow it for the Knights.

Luckily, one team has to come away with a win and if it’s not Rutgers feel free to pull the panic switch until the Scarlet Knights notch their next “W”. Come on Rutgers, just do it play good football. If Rutgers wins this game and Art Sitkowski is healthy for week 4, almost all the heartache from Columbus will dissipate. If Kansas wins, the fan base will be irate no matter how patient the administration plans to be for the next two years.

Sometimes, we have to take a step back and not think about sports like Americans to enjoy them ...