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Rutgers Football Game #8 Preview vs Liberty

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One million dollar opponent comes in favored.

Mississippi State v Mississippi
Mr. Freeze brings his troops to the banks.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Liberty (5-2; 0-0) At Rutgers (1-6; 0-5)

Where: SHI Stadium, Piscataway, NJ

Kick-off: Saturday, October 26 at 12:01 p.m. EDT

Weather: 62 degrees, mostly cloudy with a 1% chance of rain, 4 mph winds

TV: BTN with Mike Monaco and Shaun O’Hara

Stream: FOX Sports App

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, Eric LeGrand, and Anthony Fucilli: WCTC 1450-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, Sirius 119, XM 202. (WRSU 88.7-FM: Justin Sontupe and Jake Schmied)

Current Spread: Liberty -7.5

Against The Spread: Rutgers 1-6; Liberty 3-4

Series History: First meeting.

SB Nation Liberty: season preview

Liberty Statistical Leaders

Passing: Stephen Calvert - 137 for 224 pass attempts, 61.2%, 1920 yards, 15 TD, 3 INT.

Rushing: Frankie Hickson - 418 yards on 83 attempts, 5.0 ypc, 3 TD; Joshua Mack - 387 yards on 65 attempts, 6.0 ypc, 3 TD; Peyton Pickett - 47 yards on 17 attempts, 2.8 ypc, 2 TD;

Receiving: Antonio Gandy-Golden- 43 catches for 877 yards, 20.4 ypc, 5 TD; D.J. Stubbs - 20 catches for 259 yards, 13.0 ypc, 2 TD; Kevin Shaa - 19 catches for 212 yards, 11.2 ypc, 2 TD; Damian King - 15 catches for 134 yards, 8.9 ypc, 0 TD;

Defense: Solomon Ajayi - 48 tackles, 1.5 for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery; Jessie Lemonier - 46 tackles, 10.0 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble; Elijah Benton - 40 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT

Kicking: Alex Probert - 25 for 26 PAT’s, 4 for 7 FG attempts, Long of 51 yards

Liberty Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Liberty | Rutgers

What To Watch For

Pacheco / Adams / Young watch

The Pacheco watch is critical after what we have seen from the Rutgers passing attack, but word is that Isaih has been limited at practice this week, so those reps went to freshmen Kay’Ron Adams and Aaron Young plus Elijah Barnwell. If Pacheco can’t go or is not full strength, Barnwell may get the call to try to wear down the Liberty defense. Rutgers will try to shorten this game and grind the ball as much as possible the longer it remains close.

The Flames defensive line despite decent size is more of a finesse operation, opting for a lot of slanting with linebackers crashing down to fill gaps. Interim HC / OC Nunzio Campanile has driven me bonkers with some of the offensive line pulls that gave defensive ends free access to the backfield time and time again the last few weeks that resulted in negative plays. Liberty’s edge players are reliable tacklers if they get a free lane, so this cannot happen. The better strategy is man to man blocking, knowing full well that if the right slant is called against the right play, it could go negative, but this should avoid negative plays where people are simply not blocked. These players also do a great job hustling to chase down plays, too.

One side effect of the aggressive lane filling is that jet sweeps with proper timing can generate huge yardage. This is where we will find out if Aaron Young is just a better athlete than the Group of Five and FCS personnel the Flames have contained in recent weeks. Rutgers needs some perimeter threat to use the width of the field and it hasn’t come in the pass game.

Langan / Campanile watch

Last week Maine struggled to get anything going with QB option runs that Rutgers runs on over half their plays with Johnny Langan. The Black Bears would struggle for yardage on the ground and then easily throw a quick hitch for an easy completion. That’s because Liberty has smaller versions of Tyreek Maddox-Williams at LB: reliable tackler, good instincts, not elite speed/quickness. So they either blitz the linebackers to force quick throws or play cover 3 and only require the LBs to cover a small area. This has been RU’s kryptonite this year, and therefore a reason Cole Snyder could get a look. Cole looks like a carbon copy of the Maine QB who led his squad to 44 points on Liberty last week. QBs have succeeded by getting outside the pocket against the Flames and then hitting broken off or scramble routes as their DBs try to avoid being beat deep. Langan can get outside, but can he make these throws? Let’s hope so. Aaron Young if he gets the right matchup will make plays if the ball can get to him in his hands quickly so he has time to break the first tackle. Tackling is not the Flames strength in the secondary.

For Rutgers to win this game, they will need to complete a few passes. The Boston College loss doesn’t look as bad on paper since the Eagles have settled in as a middle of the pack ACC team who will probably go to a bowl game. Unfortunately, that was when Rutgers had Art Sitkowski under center. Don’t expect Sitkowski, though if this game is close despite Rutgers doing nothing on offense, you have to think Campanile will have to go for the win with Sitkowski or even untested freshman Cole Snyder.

If not, I would let Art Sitkowski play his 4th game to try and get Rutgers a 2nd win in 2019.

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

Andy Buh, if there is any game to pull out all the stops, this is it. The first thing that jumps out from Liberty’s highlights is that if you don’t get pressure, quarterback Stephen Calvert will kill you with late breaking routes. When he is pressured, Calvert will make mistakes or throw the ball away quickly, hence his completion percentage. I can’t restate this enough, if you let him sit back there with time, Calvert will complete a ton of intermediate range passes. The Liberty receivers are FBS quality, maybe even Power Five so Avery Young and Damon Hayes will need to lock down in man coverage so Rutgers can blitz a 5th, even 6th guy to force the action. Maine with its FCS talent got ZERO pressure with four men, but a ton of it with just one blitzer. I have confidence in Hayes and Young, but the inexperienced RU safeties in man to man coverage? Christian Izien and Jarrett Paul need to play well.

The Liberty offense is well balanced. They have some big receivers who can block as well as serve as big targets in the pass game. Their offensive line doesn't do overcomplicated pulling, just get a hat on a hat. When defenses are tired and have to respect the pass, this works well enough to gain yards on the ground. Their backs are mix of size and speed, smartly not trying to do too much. They try to start running down hill and then deviate once they get into space only. Hugh Freeze has done a great job with this offense, specifically in the run game.

As has been the case all year, Rutgers linebackers need to do well in defending both the run and the pass. Deion Jennings did a nice job in his first career start at strong-side linebacker and needs to do that again. If Olakunle Fatukasi, Tyreek Maddox-Williams, or Tyshon Fogg ends up in coverage on wide receivers, it’s lights out, probably for the rest of the 2019 season.

Special Teams

The Liberty Special teamers have overpowered their opponents often this year, especially to break a number of big kickoff returns, including a touchdown last week. Justin Davidovicz needs to nail a few touchbacks and if the Flames do return, we need to see last year’s elite RU kickoff coverage led by Mo Jabbie and Larry Stevens return.

Alex Probert is a pretty good quicker though, too. Liberty keeps momentum when he nails field goals even when they don’t get in the end zone. Rutgers needs to have Korsak pin the Flames deep and avoid those big, explosive plays.

As we have said every week against these “average” P5 opponents, Rutgers needs to win the special teams battle to avoid being blown out. The same is true this week. Can Rutgers get a big play themselves on a return or blocked kick?

Why should I have hope?

  1. Liberty is not a Big Ten team. Their offense is balanced, but would it be against the B1G opponents RU faces each week? No.
  2. Liberty’s five wins all came against teams outside of the top 100 per realtime RPI, which calculates ratings just like it is done in basketball.
  3. Liberty relies on big plays, Rutgers could (in theory) limit those.

You still should temper expectations because Rutgers is that bad on offense. We already know the Scarlet Knights are not a Big Ten offense, statistically one of the worst in conference history.

Final Thoughts

Rutgers is paying Liberty one million dollars to come here as 7.5 point favorites. I still think it’s the right move to schedule the lowest level FBS schools you can for RU when they struggle against their conference opponents so much. At this point, it doesn’t matter who Rutgers plays if they can’t complete a few passes, sustain drives, and give their defense some rest. Even independents. Even Liberty.

A lot of Rutgers faithful don’t even think RU should be playing Liberty for political, philosophical, and religious reasons no matter the chances of a victory on the field. Many people around the country have similar feelings about Huge Freeze. Therefore if Rutgers does pull out a win, it will be that much more satisfying in another disastrous season on the banks.

Beliefs aside, the Flames are exactly what I would want my team to be on the field with the talent they have. I always want my teams to win, but appreciate it a lot more if they play well and get a “W”. In this matchup, I don’t care what it takes. Short of physically injuring people with cheap shots, I will be happy even if Rutgers wins this game 2-0 and the only points come on a safety where Liberty snapped the ball out of their own end zone. This is unlikely though because Liberty can move the ball. Rutgers winning this game will provide the same feeling as your team winning an NFL playoff game (unless its the Patriots who always do). Please Rutgers. Please win this one.

Please, please, please, let me get what I want this time ...