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Rutgers Football Game #5 Preview vs Indiana

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3-1 Hoosiers come to town in Big Ten East division contest.

Rutgers v Indiana
Blackshear (not Simmons) was bottled up against Indiana, he will get more chances in 2018.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Indiana (3-1; 0-1) At Rutgers (1-3; 0-1)

Where: Highpoint.com Stadium, Piscataway, NJ.

Kick-off: Saturday, September 29th at 12:00 p.m. EDT

Weather: 73 degrees, mostly sunny with a 1% chance of rain, 6 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 195, Sirius 94 (Jake Ostrove, Brad LoPrinzi and Alex Piatnochka)

Current Spread: Indiana -16.5

Against The Spread: Rutgers 1-3; Indiana 1-3

Series History: Tied 2-2. The teams have played each year for the last four.

SB Nation IU site: Crimson Quarry

Indiana Statistical Leaders

Passing: Peyton Ramsey - 88 for 122 pass attempts, 72.1%, 751 yards, 7 TD, 4 INT. Michael Penix Jr. - 12 for 15 pass attempts, 80.0%, 125 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT.

Rushing: Stevie Scott - 406 yards on 80 attempts, 5.1 ypc, 3 TD; Peyton Ramsey - 119 yards on 41 attempts, 2.9 ypc, 1 TD; Whop Philyor - 52 yards on 3 attempts, 17.3 ypc, 0 TD; Reese Taylor - 42 yards on 10 attempts, 4.2 ypc, 0 TD

Receiving: Whop Philyor - 18 catches for 194 yards, 10.8 ypc, 1 TD; Donavan Hale - 11 catches for 147 yards, 13.4 ypc, 3 TD; Luke Timian - 13 catches for 148 yards, 10.6 ypc, 0 TD; Nick Westbrook - 11 catches for 98 yards, 8.9 ypc, 1 TD;

Defense: Jonathan Crawford - 23 tackles, 3.0 for a loss, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery; Dameon Willis - 17 tackles, 2.0 for a loss, 0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 0 recovered fumbles, 0 pass defended; Marcelino Ball - 15 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Kicking: Logan Justus - 13 for 14 PAT’s, 4 for 5 FG attempts, Long of 36 yards

Indiana Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Indiana I Rutgers

What To Watch For

Energy

Previewing Kansas, I made a complete miscalculation that having played stiffer competition, Rutgers should have an edge. It didn’t matter against the Bulls either. The team just had no energy save a drive here or there on either side of the ball until the second half of the Buffalo game.

The fact is that it’s not about Xs and Os right now for this team. It’s not even about talent which I absolutely do not believe is one of the main causes of the team’s struggles. This team needs to bring energy and execute. Forget the opponent, stakes, crowd, media and just focus on this game. My defensive line coach in college would say before a game, “If you need me to get you excited to play a football game, you might as well just leave the field right now.” And then Rutgers needs to do the basic three things from last year’s positional reviews; assignment, alignment, technique. There is no excuse for not getting the first two right (the FCS teams that are beating P5 schools are doing it) and cleaning up the technique a little bit will go a long way.

Does Rutgers have a quarterback as talented as Tyree Jackson, no? Did they have more talented quarterbacks than Kansas? Absolutely! Which brings us to the weekly ...

Sitkowski watch

Art Sitkowski was slightly better than awful in his fourth career start. Coach Ash was noncommital at the Monday weekly press conference, but finally named Art the starter on Thursday. Our staff had very mixed opinions as to who should start at quarterback, so you’ll note that I disagreed with the move. Of course I am not at practice every day, nor do I get paid to make college football coaching decisions.

The problem here is not whether Art has a higher ceiling than Giovanni Rescigno. (so does Johnathan Lewis). The players tallied more votes for Gio as team captain than any other player according to Ash, so when Art threw 7 interceptions in roughly 7 quarters of play AND got injured in the process, the team wanted to rally around Gio. The body language and effort is simply better when Gio has been in the game.

So the key here is simple, Sitkowski needs to give the team a reason to believe he can do it on Saturdays. Plain and simple. If he can do that with a big throw or simply managing a few drives, then the rest of the team should show more in support of him. John McNulty was right that Art didn’t do anything terribly wrong against Buffalo, but not much was going on and the team needed a spark. Which brings us to ...

Big Plays

The definition of a big play to Rutgers on offense right now is any play that results in a first down or gets them back on schedule. That’s not where you want to be. By statistical measure, Rutgers is the WORST in the country right now having gotten ZERO offensive plays of 30 yards or more. On the flip side, Rutgers defense (commenters help me out with the source) has given up the most in FBS or close.

Indiana is somehow actually ranked lower (123rd) than Rutgers (115th) in explosiveness on offense. The Indiana defense is much stingier (33rd) in this category whereas Rutgers defense (119th) so the Scarlet Knights need to break a few tackles on offense to have any chance in this game. From what we have seen thus far Isaih Pacheco is the best tackle breaker on the Rutgers offense with Raheem Blackshear a close second, so we might see both of them on the field together this weekend.

Defensively, Rutgers needs to not miss tackles because if they do, Indiana’s skill position players could break out. The Indiana press and fan base feels very limited by Peyton Ramsey’s upside as he in their minds is very much like Giovanni Rescigno was in 2017, as Ramsey takes care of business against equal or inferior competition, but will never be enough to spring an upset. So perhaps the Hoosiers try to work Mike Penix in against Rutgers. Regardless of who plays quarterback look for a lot of carries for reliable running back Stevie Scott, who actually chose Indiana over Rutgers as a finalist in his recruiting.

“Special” teams

Rutgers Special Teams was the lone bright spot against Kansas and continued its solid play against Buffalo overall. Justin Davidovicz and Adam Korsak are among the handful of players on the Rutgers roster who are performing better than expected. They need to just keep doing what their doing because if Rutgers finds itself in a close game at any point, kicking is huge.

The danger here is that the Scarlet Knights special teams may start trying to do too much. On kickoffs, we know Davidovicz can get a touchback almost every time but Rutgers has attempted some high kicks to bait opposing returners to try and return a few. This is high risk, high reward because Rutgers cannot afford to allow a big return which will happen when big hits trying to force fumbles and pin the opponent back are taking place. If Rutgers defense can avoid giving up big plays, forcing the opponent to drive 75 yards is a much tougher proposition. Conversely, Rutgers returners have taken risks as well because of the lack of big plays from the offense. The offense needs to get going or else Blackshear and Avery Young, both who have shown some solid speed and moves will have to roll the dice on returns which again is very high-risk, only rarely high-reward.

Coaching

Pat Hobbs is not one to make impulsive decisions, but those potential decisions are becoming less and less so with the team showing few signs of life week over week. The games are only going to get harder in 2018. This coaching staff has to lead young men in an era where our society is in a bizarre space where kids are over coddled but then overly scrutinized all of a sudden. But every staff in America is dealing with this phenomenon, so this and most other excuses need to go. The coaching staff must set the example of taking responsibility then following up on it.

When listening to the press conferences and knowing the track records, the Rutgers coaching staff knows schemes and the science of football. You can tell just listening to them. But that doesn’t seem to be translating into the team’s hunger and love of football. Football is supposed to be fun, that’s the whole point of playing, it’s not supposed to be a chore. So this staff needs to find ways to bring some swagger, joy, enthusiasm, fun, excitement, any of the above to the field on game day. Like the famous, “I’m a man, I’m 40,” the coaches need to know a lot better than the players how to handle any situation, especially during the tough times. Sports boil down to two basic purposes: get exercise in a creative way and learn life lessons in a competitive environment with lower stakes than say war, economic depression, zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, etc. The fan base and players need to show some of this resolve and perseverance.

Final Thoughts

This Indiana team would be ripe for the picking if Rutgers was playing close to what they were last year after the Eastern Michigan debacle. The Hoosiers are a lot like what Rutgers was midway through the 2017 season, control the ball and clock, contain on defense, and beat who you are supposed to beat. Indiana is 123rd in the country in explosiveness, but 33rd in efficiency. The Hoosiers are coming in overconfident, sitting at 3-1 and having destroyed Rutgers 41-0 last year.

But other than last year’s game, the other Big Ten matchups between these two programs have been wild affairs. In 2014 Rutgers had no chance of stopping Tevin Coleman who ran for 302 yards yet still won 45-23. In 2015 Indiana somehow blew a 25 point lead to a Rutgers team that for the only time all season without Leonte Carroo came up with chunk play after chunk play in the 4th quarter. Then in 2016 Rutgers dominated the Hoosiers on either end of the contest, but in the middle went for 7 straight three and outs that Indiana capitalized on enough to win, barely. If both teams are competent, this type of wackiness and insane momentum shifts during division rivalry games is one thing to love about college football. Rutgers fans aren’t expecting a win and all they ask for is a legitimate football game. Can the Knights deliver one?