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Rutgers Football Game #4 Preview vs Buffalo

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Nowhere to go but up?

NCAA Football: Buffalo at Army
Draws and stretch plays need to be defended.
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Buffalo (3-0; 1-0) At Rutgers (1-2; 0-1)

Where: Highpoint.com Stadium, Piscataway, NJ.

Kick-off: Saturday, September 22nd at 12:00 p.m. EDT

Weather: 72 degrees, partly cloudy with a 1% chance of rain, 6 mph winds

TV: BTN Joe Beninati (play-by-play) and James Laurinaitis (analyst). 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 201, Sirius 111. WRSU 88.7-FM (Matt Howe, Stephen Nelson and Brad LoPrinzi)

Current Spread: Buffalo -6

Against The Spread: Rutgers 1-2; Buffalo 2-1

Series History: Rutgers leads 5-1. Last matchup in 2007 (Rutgers won 38-3).

SB Nation UofB site: Bull Run

Buffalo Statistical Leaders

Passing: Tyree Jackson - 64 for 98 pass attempts, 65.3%, 789 yards, 12 TD, 1 INT. Kyle Vantrease - 2 for 2 pass attempts, 100.0%, 11 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT.

Rushing: Kevin Marks. - 219 yards on 45 attempts, 4.9 ypc, 4 TD; Emmanuel Reed - 112 yards on 31 attempts, 3.6 ypc, 0 TD; Johnathan Hawkins - 47 yards on 11 attempts, 4.3 ypc, 0 TD; Jaret Patterson - 36 yards on 10 attempts, 3.6 ypc, 1 TD

Receiving: K.J. Osborn - 16 catches for 300 yards, 18.8 ypc, 5 TD; Anthony Johnson - 16 catches for 207 yards, 12.9 ypc, 2 TD; Charlie Jones - 6 catches for 113 yards, 18.8 ypc, 2 TD;

Defense: Khalil Hodge - 32 tackles, 2.0 for a loss, 0 sacks, 0 INT’s, 0 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries, 2 passes defended; Charles Harris - 16 tackles, 4.0 for a loss, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovered fumbles, 1 pass defended; Cameron Lewis - 11 tackles, 0 sacks, 2 INT’s, 0 forced fumbles, 0 recovered fumble, 1 pass defended

Kicking: Adam Mitcheson - 14 for 16 PAT’s, 1 for 1 FG attempts, Career Long of 49 yards

Buffalo Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Buffalo I Rutgers

What To Watch For

Sitkowski watch

Art Sitkowski was awful in his third career start despite looking physically healthy. Coach Ash was full of coach speak at Monday’s press conference, saying that Art is “the starter” but not sounding like he would surely be in the entire game. Johnathan Lewis did not get any positive publicity though as it was re-iterated that Gio would be used if needed. This will remain the number one story until Rutgers gets a game with at least average quarterback play. Until then fans and even players will probably be split on the best QB option and continue to fracture the trust in the coaching staff.

The offensive line did their part in protection, but Rutgers receivers need to help whatever quarterback is under center out a lot more. I agree with Aaron that Eddie Lewis was the one skill position guy who played better than expected. Lewis and Jerome Washington were reliable security blankets in the middle, especially on third down. Raheem Blackshear ran for over 100 yards which was just a footnote, but he seems like he’ll come to play every week. Who else can step up? Shameen Jones had his chances, maybe a tight end or Isaih Pacheco?

Under aerial attack?

In last week’s game, there was not much passing from either side. That will change this week even if RU doesn’t figure it out. The Bulls boast star wide receiver Anthony Johnson and quarterback Tyree Jackson who may both play on Sundays in the near future. Kansas had two steady receivers, but neither was a game breaker like Johnson who had 76 catches, 1356 yards, and 14 TD last year. On the other side, K.J. Osborn was solid last year, but has 5 touchdowns already this year and shares the team lead with Johnson in receptions with 16. A week ago, Osborn was named the MAC offensive player of the week.

As Scarlet Knight fans know as good as anyone, a dangerous passing attack allows the QB to spread the ball to other receivers who may be less covered and run the ball to change things up. Kevin Marks is an average at worst runner who benefits from the space open if he can get to the second level, using his solid frame (6’0, 200 lbs.) to get extra yards. Without star cornerback Bless Austin who is scheduled for surgery Friday, Rutgers has their hands full with a multi-faceted offense that will not be afraid to put it in the air in any situation.

Personnel changes

On defense, Rutgers doesn’t have many options in the defensive backfield or defensive line to give significantly more snaps to. The steep deficits the last two weeks allowed some younger players to get their feet wet a bit more like Tim Barrow, Mike Tverdov, and Brendan Bordner, but none did anything to blow away the staff yet. Expect Jay Niemann to try more packages featuring a blitzing fourth linebacker to generate some pass rush. In the secondary, they will all be tested through the air after a week of mostly tackling responsibilities. It will be interesting to see if Isaiah Wharton shadows Johnson at all or if Rutgers DBs simply take who’s in front of them.

Offense could see a lot of repurposing of personnel. Offensive coordinator John McNulty hinted at the possibility of the tight ends getting more involved including Travis Vokolek and Daevon Robinson. There was even a mention of Jalen Jordan, the hybrid WR/TE who enrolled early since he’s a big target with good straight line speed. Whatever the outcome, expect more three tight end sets where Rutgers could alter who stays in as an extra blocker. Protection will be key as Buffalo boasts a very active defense. Khalil Hodge is not the next Khalil Mack (yet thankfully), but is a very solid player who needs to be accounted for.

At wide receiver, Bo Melton may get some screens and quick tosses to try and get into the flow of the game early. Beyond him, it’s anybody’s guess what Wide Receiver can emerge as the other split wideout as Eddie Lewis seems to be getting a leg up as the slot man. Since everything is on the table at this point, perhaps Rutgers uses Lewis at times split wide with Blackshear in the slot and Isaih Pacheco in the backfield. Pacheco was curiously absent from the offensive game plan a week ago, something the staff admitted was an oversight as the game got out of reach. If nothing else, Rutgers will look a lot different if their skill position players can simply hold onto the ball.

“Special” teams

Rutgers Special Teams last week was the lone bright spot. They had two blocked kicks, including one for a touchdown and did almost everything they could to help field position. Buffalo has a 4th year starting placekicker in Adam Mitcheson who is very reliable. He has not attempted that many 50+ yard kicks, likely due to weather half the season, but has 40 career field goals converted. Mitcheson and more importantly his unit overall has only attempted one field goal this season (though they have been 12-12 on XPs), so perhaps Rutgers can apply some pressure to swing momentum with another block or alteration.

K.J. Osborn and Isaiah King are solid returners so Justin Davidovicz on kickoffs and Adam Korsak on punts will need to be very on target. Perhaps this is the week a Korsak punt takes a weird bounce off a member of the return team for Rutgers to snag a timely turnover. On the flip side, Freshman Evan Finegan for Buffalo has averaged about 41 yards a punt which is not wonderful so if Rutgers can pin Buffalo back, they could gain an advantage in the field position battle.

Rutgers special teams coordinator Vince Okruch (and freshman Paul Woods) are both from Buffalo, New York. Coach Okruch needs to have a good game for Rutgers to stay in this game and build confidence as a whole.

Energy

When asked, Chris Ash said he was “ok” with the team’s effort last week, although fans didn’t agree. Rutgers had improved a lot in their run defense since October 2016 but surrendered 400 yards on the ground last week. Expect the message behind the scenes to be a little more emotional than what was delivered to the press. The business-like, almost corporate approach works well when you are winning, but when times are tough players often follow the demeanor of their head coach. Ash is pretty even keeled overall but we have seen some emotion from him, particularly in the Purdue win last year. For Rutgers to right the ship, they need some passion, fire, and/or intensity.

Last week I made a complete miscalculation that having played stiffer competition, Rutgers should have an edge. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but the Scarlet Knights played with less confidence than Kansas even though the Jayhawks had lost earlier in the season to FCS Nicholls State. It goes to show how much short term-memory impacts confidence and Rutgers needs to find something to feel good about. From the beginning of the game last week, fans commented in our open thread how Rutgers seemed to lack “swagger.” It’s true some players don’t need to be demonstrative to be confident, but on a football team with 100 players in an emotional sport, we need to see it from somebody on the field.

Final Thoughts

Writing the preview last week was difficult because it was one of those games where all the predictions and analysis might go out the window if one team didn’t come to play. And that’s exactly what happened. In blowouts, I don’t care about the final score once things get out of hand, but Rutgers should not have been blown out by Kansas in the first place.

If the Knights play like they did last week they will not win another game in 2018. They have some potential to bounce back like we saw with this coaching staff a season ago. Even though the ceiling is probably not a bowl participant at this point, what is this team’s identity? What is their bread and butter on offense or defense? There’s only 9 more games this season so I’m hoping for a few moments to cheer and if nothing else build on moving forward.