Mohamed Sanu is the Rutgers offense (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The Bearcats game at Rutgers this coming Saturday has taken on added significance for two reasons. The first is the loss to West Virginia which knocked a game off what looked like a nearly insurmountable lead in the Big East. UC still has the inside track to the Big East crown, and the corresponding BCS spot. But the margin for error is smaller than it was this time a week ago. The other is the loss of Zach Collaros for the balance of the regular season. The Bearcats are still immenatly capible of winning out and claiming the crown, it's just a bigger challenge. Of the three remaining opponents Rutgers is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch.
The Rutgers offense is the same as it has always been since Greg Schiano took the job. Or at least the offense looks the same as ever. Ostensibly pro style in scheme with an emphasis on the running game and play action passes. This year that has changed slightly as Frank Cigneti Jr., the new Offensive Coordinator and Pitt refugee has basically completely given up on the running game, and not without reason.
Jawan Jamison is the leading rusher among Rutgers players and he is averaging just over 60 yards per game and 3.32 yards per carry. As a team Rutgers is averaging 90.4 yards and 2.60 yards per carry, which ranks 118th and 119th nationally respectively. Rutgers is a completely one dimensional offense. They have to throw to win, and neither of their QB's are particularly good.
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Rutgers is throwing the ball a bit more this year, OK Rutgers is throwing the ball a lot more in 2011. The 37 attempts per game average that the Knights have accumulated is the highest since 2004 when a Ryan Hart lead Scarlet Knights team put the ball up 43 times a game. It is also just the second time since the Hart era that Rutgers will have thrown the ball more than they ran.
The reason for the shift to the passing game is pretty clear. Mohamed Sanu who has already broken the Big East single season reception record. On the year he has 94 receptions for 973 yards and 7 TD's, his 9.4 catches per game average is second in the country, and it is one of the five highest per game averages of the last 5 seasons. Check out Rutgers distribution of receiving yards
Sanu is basically the only viable weapon for the Rutgers offense, certainly the most dependable and consistent of all of the Knights offensive players. The ball gets funneled to him, and it should.
One last thing before moving onto the defensive side of the ball. Rutgers offensive line is not very good. The group is, as a whole better than last year. But they still struggle mightily protecting the passer and as mentioned above, they can't generate any sort of offense on the ground. While the line has given up only 21 sacks on the year, 9 of them have come in the last 4 games. In the last four games UC has sacked opposing QB's 14 times. It's a tale of two lines headed in opposite directions.
Outside of Louisville, who I think has the best defense in the conference, Rutgers will be the biggest challenge for the UC offense. They are solid at all three levels of defense. Schematically Rutgers looks the same as ever. A base 4-3 look with plenty of depth and athletes up front. Schaino doesn't like to blitz often. Being a disciple of Butch Davis he believes in getting pressure with the front four. The best of the bunch is Justin Francis who has turned in a monster 55 tackle, 6.5 sack, 13 TFL, 1 INT season as a Senior.
The other guy to look out for is Khaseem Greene who is ostensibly a defensive back, but plays more of a linebacker position than anything else. He is a blur to the ball and makes a ton of plays in the running game. He is good in coverage, but it is not what he does best. He is the player that really makes the Rutgers defense go because he gives them so much versatility in coverage and pressure schemes.
One last point I want to make before moving onto the special teams is that while over the course of a game Rutgers tends to play solid defense. But they are prone to momentary lapses in concentration and have been known to give up big plays. They actually rank 81st in plays of 20+ yards allowed with 46 of them. For comparisons sake the much maligned UC defense ranks 23 with 34 allowed, admittedly in one fewer game. That is one of the reasons why I prefer the Louisville defense to Rutgers. The Cards are just suffocating game in game out.
San San Te is back for his 4,000th year kicking. he has been his usual solid if not terribly consistent self. Justin Dohmer has had a good year punting the Football and on kickoffs, but he isn't a weapon in the way that Pat O'Donnell has been for UC. In the return game the only thing that troubles me is Jeremy Deering on kickoffs, but UC's coverage teams have been generally excellent this season