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Rutgers Football Game #7 Preview v no. 20 Minnesota

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Rutgers welcomes many former staff members to the banks.

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Minnesota
Fleck and company return to the banks.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

No. 20 Minnesota (6-0; 3-0) At Rutgers (1-5; 0-4)

Where: SHI Stadium, Piscataway, NJ

Kick-off: Saturday, October 19 at 3:40 p.m. EDT

Weather: 58 degrees, mostly sunny with a 1% chance of rain, 3 mph winds

TV: BTN with Lisa Byington (play-by-play), J Leman (analyst) and Elise Menaker (reporter)

Stream: FOX Sports App

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, Eric LeGrand, and Anthony Fucilli - Rutgers IMG Sports Network: WCTC 1450-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, Sirius 94, XM 195. (WRSU 88.7-FM: Corey Jason and Raj Shah)

Current Spread: Minnesota -28

Against The Spread: Rutgers 1-5; Minnesota 3-2-1

Series History: 1-0, Minnesota won 34-32 in the first and only meeting (2016)

SB Nation Minnesota site: The Daily Gopher

Minnesota Statistical Leaders

Passing: Tanner Morgan - 86 for 124 pass attempts, 69.4%, 1378 yards, 14 TD, 3 INT.

Rushing: Rodney Smith - 675 yards on 118 attempts, 5.7 ypc, 4 TD; Mohamed Ibrahim - 208 yards on 44 attempts, 4.7 ypc, 5 TD; Shannon Brooks - 215 yards on 34 attempts, 6.3 ypc, 1 TD;

Receiving: Tyler Johnson - 33 catches for 459 yards, 13.9 ypc, 5 TD; Rashod Bateman - 24 catch for 533 yards, 22.2 ypc, 4 TD; Chris Autman-Bell - 12 catches for 235 yards, 19.6 ypc, 4 TD;

Defense: Kamal Martin - 41 tackles, 0.0 for a loss, 0 sacks, 2 interception, 2 forced fumbles; Antoine Winfield Jr. - 37 tackles, 2 for a loss, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 1 forced fumble; Chris Williamson - 33 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT

Kicking: Michael Lantz - 25 for 27 PAT’s, 4 for 6 FG attempts, Long of 37 yards

Minnesota Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Minnesota | Rutgers

What To Watch For

Protecting Langan watch

The comment that “there are no offensive linemen on this roster” is so ridiculous, it’s absurd. People point to Zach Venesky and Kamaal Seymour as Flood recruits as well as Nick Krimin who I believe originally committed to RU before the Ash Era began, and therefore Chris Ash has not been able to recruit linemen. Yes I give some credence to the fact that all three-star linemen are not created equal, but RU has so many of them it’s more of a problem with development in my book. Part of the development issue is running now a 5th offensive scheme in 5 years. The other is that most linemen aren’t ready until their 4th and 5th years, it’s an exception to have people sooner. The last part is that RU has not been able to develop 13 of their 14 plus scholarship linemen at an accelerated rate which is partly on recruiting, the players themselves, and the coaches.

I don’t want to completely absolve the offensive line of their struggles, but good quarterbacks can control pressure. A week ago people talked about how atrocious the New York Jets offensive line was and that’s why Luke Falk couldn’t do anything. Well Sam Darnold comes back and all of a sudden he’s chucking the ball for 300+ yards after much of their fan base had said not to play him because the team can’t block. At the college level we saw Chas Dodd and Gary Nova both struggle at times throwing the ball, but they were able to avoid sacks a lot of the time.

Johnny Langan’s pocket presence has been poor, but mixed in some flashes so he could see it click at some point. It took Art Sitkowski 14 college games to really have any feel for the opposing rush, so Johnny is already ahead of that pace. The disadvantage for Johnny is exactly what we saw in the spring game, his accuracy simply isn’t good enough to hit moving receivers in the hands so they can secure the ball easily and then look upfield. Sitkowski was able to deliver the ball on short throws and check downs and allow yards after the catch. The way you throw for one yard on FIVE completions that everyone gets hit before they can do anything with the ball.

The other thing is that people say the line is so bad they can’t do a max protection to take a shot downfield. Yes you can, it’s called roll the pocket to one side and keep someone front side. Of course the secondary will not have to cover the entire field, but it would work at least once or twice with a QB who can move. I’d say just try a bomb on the first play, but they tried that and it ended badly last week.

Joe Rossi is the Minnesota defensive coordinator. If you can find anyone who thinks he’s a genius after what we have seen in his career including on the banks, let me know. P.J. Fleck was so confident (sense the sarcasm) he brought in former Maine HC Joe Harasymiak as an heir apparent if things went south on that side of the ball. Rossi is still better than what we have seen at RU these last few years because at least he takes some chances to blitz and excite his players, like the Michigan State near upset in 2015, but that leaves him vulnerable against the right play calls.

Can anyone (preferably with several years of eligibility) do anything fun on offense?

Well, we hope so. If the offensive line can protect a bit, maybe we see Cole Snyder (Fr.). The Gophers defense has 11 players who have gotten at least half a sack this year, but the best Sam Renner has just three. It’s a team effort, so hopefully RU can show some improvement and avoid a single man missing his assignment and blowing the play for everybody. People say Cole is not a fit for this offense, but he returned punts in high school, so I’m pretty sure he can move around and isn’t afraid of being hit. I’d give him some snaps this week because it makes more sense than against the powerhouses the final three games. One quarter of pressure won’t give him shell shock.

Isaih Pacheco (So.) will have to break one with his acceleration at some point even if defenses treat him like Jim Brown every time he touches it. Aaron Young (Fr.) has been good at the Blackshear position, but also has had limited room to run or accurately thrown balls. Kay’Ron Adams (Fr.) may get a redshirt, but I’d use up his last game against Illinois or Liberty if so to give the team another weapon.

On the outside, I’d like to see Matt Alaimo (RFr.) make some catches since he has so much eligibility left. Bo Melton (Jr.) could use some more touches if possible and the return of Eddie Lewis (So.) to the field means there’s at least one more guy who can get open. It would be nice to see Paul Woods get loose, I’m not sure who else in this receiver group can win their battle on talent/athleticism alone.

Rutgers probably won’t sacrifice a field goal attempt, but Cole Murphy can throw the ball if given the chance on a fake. Maybe Adam Korsak does a roll out run for once, although teams have decided to just send all out blocks at him just to avoid him taking extra time to allow the cover team to get downfield. Minnesota should be playing things as conservatively as humanly possible, though.

Chris Ash, Head Coach. Andy Buh, D.C.

Minnesota’s offense is led by Tanner Morgan who beat out Art Sitkowski’s high school teammate Zach Annexstad (now injured) as the starting QB. Morgan has done exactly what you want out of a Big Ten starting quarterback this year and has three reliable running backs including Shannon Brooks (2,097 career rush yards) and Rodney Smith (3,637 career rush yards) who have been playing forever. Both of those backs were key to the game winning drive against Rutgers at Minnesota in 2016, the only other meeting between the two schools. Like Iowa, Michigan, Maryland, and Boston College, the Golden Gophers want to ride their backs and hit you with an occasional play-action deep ball, basically the John McNulty-Kirk Ciarrocca (former OC at RU and father of Colby) offense at its best.

On the flip side, Andy Buh has not looked to be an even average defensive coordinator, my expectation heading into the season. Perhaps he figured something out last week without Chris Ash at his side, but Indiana did everything they could to keep the score down in the 2nd half. In the early going, Indiana could do whatever they wanted and if it weren’t for a few drops, it could have been 35-0 in the first quarter. With two very good cornerbacks, it simply doesn’t make sense how this defense could be so bad with plenty of three-star scholarship talent. Opponents go vanilla by the second quarter and RU has struggled.

Before the season, I predicted that the defense would be Big Ten adequate if the offense could give them some help. The O hasn’t and the defense has been barely clinging on, but to their credit they have not folded. Biggest credit for that should be bestowed on Willington Previlon, the exact type of top 40 in-state player that we saw develop over 5 years and what solid P5 programs have an unlimited supply of. In addition, credit to Tyshon Fogg, Drew Singleton, Tyreek Maddox-Williams, and co. for playing like warriors and not going through the motions to allow huge runs like we saw a year ago. Linebackers could easily go through the motions, but these guys have brought it this year. Christian Izien will get more time and hopefully can be the safety that can bring the same enthusiasm regardless of game situation.

Special Teams

The Rutgers special teamers get another matchup where I’d like to see them win their head to head battles. (Maybe someone can simply edit the game footage Sunday to only show special teams plays and just count those.) Jacob Herbers is averaging just 39.3 yards per punt, which would be more interesting to watch if a huge storm hits the banks, but as of now game time wind is only 2-3 mph. We know how good three-time Ray Guy weekly award winner Adam Korsak is, even if the league office doesn’t care. Demetrius Douglas is a pretty solid punt returner if given the chance though.

The other half of the Minnesota kicking equation has been shaky, Michael Lantz. That said, this game would have to be close for that to matter. Maybe Rutgers can return a kickoff or blocked kick for a TD to give the fans something to cheer about.

Could an injury to Minnesota’s starting quarterback result in an RU victory?

Probably not, even though only Tanner Morgan has attempted a pass this year.

Final Thoughts

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are on the brink of their first 7-0 start since 1960, so let’s be happy for them. For sure the nicest people (not necessarily fans) I have met in my travels across America were in Lincoln, NE and Minneapolis, MN (other than the Kitty Cat Club on a Sunday). Of the two fan bases, Minnesota is just happy to be here and not a laughingstock or butt of the jokes Rutgers is now on the receiving end of. Good for them for being a competent football team and having less injuries than I have ever heard of halfway through a season. Is Jeremy Cole to thank for that?

The Rutgers season is left to a state of just accept a 1-11 finish with anything better than that pure gravy. This Minnesota contingent that luckily squeaked out a few wins early in the year is coming off a somewhat emotional drubbing of Nebraska and is due for a letdown, so it’s unfortunate Rutgers has no pulse right now. This is a game that in a season like 2017 or 2015, a below average RU might be able to put a scare in a ranked opponent at home. At this point for the Knights Queensmen, it’s about three things: 1. Do something that is fun for the players who are emotionally beat down all week every week. 2. Find any little thing to build on. 3. Use this game to figure out what can be done to make either the Illinois or Liberty game somewhat competitive.

Thanks for reading and here’s to the other Scarlet Knight athletic programs this weekend!