When the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers faced off against WSU in Seattle last year, the Cougar defense got a heavy does of Paul James and the ground attack. How do things change in 2015? Not that much.
The 2015 edition of Rutgers Football relies on a stable of backs, led by James and Sophomore Josh Hicks. Last Saturday they ran the ball 47 times for 291 yards; a whopping 6.2 YPC. That sounds eerily similar to the 43 attempts for 215 yards against WSU in 2014. What does DC Alex Grinch need to do to contain them?
On Saturday against Portland State the defense was frequently out of place, missing with arm tackles, and leaving open lanes for the ball carrier to pass through. Against Rutgers the defense needs to get back to fundamentals. Football is a complex mashup of preparation, scheme, match ups, adjustments, and execution. But football is a simple game. Get back to fundamentals.
Starting with the D-line, WSU must stick to their gap assignments. The 3-man front plus a RUSH backer have enough talent and speed to force the runner inside to the waiting arms of the MIKE or SAM. Plugging the nose will be paramount. Frankly, the pass rush can sometimes be detrimental to the run game as the big bodies quickly find themselves behind the ball. All 307 lbs. of Robert Barber are needed to stop the Rutgers push off the line of scrimmage. After a good week of practice we may also see the college debut of 6-2, 314 lb. RS Freshman Ngalu Tapa.
At the Linebacker level, poor lanes and tackling doomed WSU last game. Sound familiar? It was obvious, glaring, and extremely disappointing. This week the key to their success is not biting on play-action fakes and remaining focused on the backfield. This is a run-first team so they need to make sure the RB does not have the ball before falling into coverage. If the front can slow the ball carriers even a step then sure tackling should finish the job. Linebackers coach Ken Wilson better have his guys ready to wrap up and hold on.
In the defensive backfield, the biggest concern is deep threat receiver Leonte Caroo. It is no secret Caroo is Rutgers’ best weapon. By running the Nickel, the Cougs put the hybrid safety/linebacker in coverage frequently. At 6-1, 215 lbs. Caroo is a good-sized receiver with speed. How does the Nickel match up against his size? Perfectly, in fact. Isaac Dotson is listed at 6-1, 215. His physicality is important to hold Caroo from lifting the lid on the defense. Press at the line of scrimmage from the corners and safety help over the top will hopefully limit the big plays through the air.
Portland State exposed the Cougar defense as soft and out of place. With a full week of practice to shrug off those errors and focus on an a new opponent I expect the Cougs will be ready to play. Focus on assignments and tackling. After a sobering loss the players must return to fundamentals.
If revenge is a true motivator then hopefully they can channel some of that on Saturday. That is what Washington State has the chance to do this week: exact revenge.
What do you think they need to do on defense to be successful?