Arkansas 2013 Opponent Preview Week 4: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Rutgers Stadium, the "Birthplace of College Football" - Andrew Burton

The Arkansas Razorbacks head north.... like REALLY north to the "Birthplace of College Football". Here's what Arkansas fans can expect out of Rutgers.

2012 9-4 (5-2) - Co-Big East Champions

The Rutgers Football team was a middling to bad football team up until 2006 when Greg Schiano and Ray Rice were able to post an 11 win season in the brightest year the Big East had ever seen.  Rutgers continued it's winning ways 4 out of the next 5 seasons, but were unable to reach the 10 win mark again.  In 2012, Rutgers turned to head coach Kyle Flood to take over after Greg Schiano was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaroos Buccaneers.

Kyle Flood and the 2012 Knights started off 7-0 against some pretty bad teams, including the Arkansas Razorbacks.  Their only wins against teams with winning records all season came against Syracuse and Cincinatti.  Their 35 points against Arkansas was their highest scoring output of the season (tied with a 35-10 win over Temple).  They finished out the season 0-3 playing at Pittsburgh, Louisville at home, and a Bowl game loss to Virginia Tech.

If Houston Nutt were coaching, they would've made rings and banners and really celebrated 2012, because they won a share of the Big East Championship in a bizarre 5-2 three way tie with Louisville and Cincinnati.

2013 2-1 (0-0)

It's important to note that Rutgers is no longer a member of the Big East.  They are in the American Athletic Conference this season as a brief stopover before they go to the B1G... or whatever you call it.  I don't want to dive too far into this conference stuff, but it's pretty strange.

This season Rutgers has probably an even easier schedule than last season, and should have no problem winning every conference game (except for Louisville).  They will have to travel a long ways to do it though as the AAC is all over America.  Following the Arkansas game, the Knights go @SMU, @ Louisville, Houston, Temple, Cincinnati, @UCF, @Connecticut, and South Florida.  And they already went to California for a game against Fresno State.

Maybe Kyle Flood asks for this kinda schedule, but it seems pretty brutal to me.  Rutgers lost the Fresno State game in overtime on a tipped 2 point conversion attempt that would've won the game.  This game saw both teams combine for over 1,000 yards of offense. Rutgers lead 20-7 in the 2nd quarter and even lead 45-38 with 1:18 left in the game. They then gave up a 56 yard kick return, committed a pass interference penalty on 3rd down, and let Fresno State tie the game.  They then lost in OT as they went for a 2 point conversion for the win.

Easy wins over Norfolk State and Eastern Michigan have brought us to the 4th week of the season.  If the Knights can beat the Hogs, they will have a lot of momentum going into road games against SMU and Louisville.

Offense

While not as infamous as Kolton Browning, Gary Nova should be a very familiar name to Arkansas fans.  Nova ruined Cobi Hamilton's record receiving day in 2012, throwing for 397 yards (3rd most of all Arkansas opponents) and 5 touchdowns in Fayetteville. Basically signaling the end of the 2012 season for most Razorback fans.

Nova was definitely an interesting story last season, as he threw for an underwhelming 2,695 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 16 Interceptions.  He threw an interception in 9 of Rutgers 13 games last season including 6 interceptions against Kent State.  Arkansas also has to prepare for backup Chris Dodd after Nova suffered a concussion last week.

Rutgers and Arkansas had very similar games in Week 3.  Both teams turned to their running game after their starting QBs were pushed out of the game with injuries. Backup QB Chas Dodd is a senior that lost his starting spot to Gary Nova at the start of the 2012 season.  He and A.J. Derby had the same number of completions last Saturday.  Just as Arkansas relied on Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, Rutgers gave the ball to former walk-on Paul James.

Paul James has posted 100 yard games in each game of the 2013 season and is averaging better than 8 yards a carry - and he leads the nation in total rushing yards.  Once again Arkansas faces an SEC caliber running back.  James is 6' 0" and 210 lbs.  Though James has amassed a lot of yards, I wouldn't consider Rutgers a top rushing team.  They rank 40th in the nation in total rushing offense though Savon Huggins has made his impact when it counts. We will see what happens when the 40th ranked rushing offense takes on the nation's 41st ranked rushing defense in the Razorbacks.

The Razorbacks currently rank 6th in that nation in total yards allowed, though part of that may be in only allowing 181 plays which is 3rd in the nation (among teams with 3 games).  If you continue to look, Arkansas only allows 4.19 yards per play which is good enough for 12th.  Something's going to have to give this week.  Will it be Rutgers' Gary Nova torching the Arkansas secondary again, or will it perhaps be Paul James being hit in the backfield as he has to deal with Trey Flowers, Chris Smith, and the imposing will of the Arkansas front 4?

Defense

Rutgers is looking phenomenal at stopping the ground game, but very weak against the pass.  They rank 5th in the nation at stopping the run, but 47th in total defense.  Eastern Michigan ran a total of 80 plays against Rutgers last week and though they only managed 38 yards on 40 rushing plays, were able to get 335 yards through the air on the other 40 plays.  Fresno State torched them through the air, but Rutgers has still yet to allow even a whole team rush for 100 yards yet this season.

The question becomes, what has happened to the Greg Schiano defensive juggernaut that was Rutgers?  Kyle flood seems okay with all the passing yards as long as it isn't coming up the middle in the hands of the running back.  Maybe it's a personnel thing as they completely revamped the secondary since last year, but the passing defense wasn't much better then (see Cobi Hamilton Arkansas and SEC record 303 receiving yards).

The Knights defense is led by twins Jamil and Jamal Merrel.  Jamal is a linebacker and will most likely be sidelined for the game, and Jamil is a defensive end that was out for the first two games of the season, and was very quiet last week with 0 tackles against Eastern Michigan.  With all of the injuries for Rutgers, it will be interesting to see if they can stop the powerful rushing attack led by center Travis Swanson, fullback Kiero Small, and the "Budda and the Beast".  Once again, something has to give in this game.  Will it be the 5th ranked rushing defense or the 100-yard rushing game streaks for Collins and Williams?

Special Teams

The story for Rutgers special teams has to start with Quron Pratt.  In a game where they needed an extra boost, Quron Pratt ran past 11 Eastern Michigan kickoff team members for a 99 yard touchdown score.  He also plays gunner on the punt team and has helped nail punt returners for 0 gain.

Janarion Grant also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the 52-51 overtime loss against Fresno State.  Very impressive for a freshman on the first touch of his collegiate career.

Pratt also blocked a punt against Norfolk State, but this block along with their returns came against subpar competition. They were unable to get big defensive special teams plays they needed in the Fresno State game, including giving up the big return to set up the game tying touchdown in the 4th quarter.

Kicker Kyle Frederico is automatic on extra points and field goals within the 30 yard line. It starts getting shakier once you get past the 30 where he is 5 for 13 in his career.

Fans and Traditions

The first intercollegiate football game took place in 1869 when a team from Princeton visited the Rutgers campus and played a rugby style football game that would barely be recognizable as a football game by today's standards. Rutgers prevailed and won 6-4 in that game, however they lost 8-0 on the return trip to Princeton that season leaving them at 1-1 for the season.

The Knights are Scarlet, and that's their only school color.  They have an alma mater called On the Banks of the Old Raritan and a fight song called The Bells Must Ring.  Their Mascot is the Scarlet Knight which took over for the "Chanticleer".  Apparently in the running was "The Cannoneers" which I very much like, but alas it was not to be.

As I referenced in last year's article, the Grease trucks, featured on Man v. Food, are a Rutgers institution, with the Fat Cat, Fat Sam, and Fat Darrell sandwiches.  If you're going this week, make sure you get one and take a picture of you eating it in your Razorback gear.  We'd love to see you post it as a fanshot.

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