In case you missed it earlier, we published a short Q&A with Pete Volk of Testudo Times in which we discussed their season and current updates on recruiting. The other part of our Big Ten East Coast tour is as follows. Huge thank you to our good friend Kevin Recio of On the Banks for taking time to chat. Also worth noting again, I wrote these questions before Saturday, and even though Kevin was wise to my game and waited to answer until after the SMU game, things still seem a little wonky at times. Anyhow, enjoy!
1. Things started out a little wild for the Scarlet Knights, huh? There is no shame in losing to Fresno State in a late Thursday night game and since that point, you've really made a lot of strides that culminated in a SEC scalp vs. Bert and the Razorbacks. We were all pretty excited about that here. Give us your overall outlook on Rutgers so far. Do you feel good about the upcoming conference schedule? And be honest, can you even name each team in your conference without looking?
I was going to say that the season was going as expected, but then Rutgers almost went and blew it against Garrett Gilbert and the Mustangs. Most RU fans were confident that the defense would be able to reload after losing Khaseem Greene and Logan Ryan to the NFL Draft, but I can say without hyperbole that the secondary is approaching historically bad levels. Twice this season, Rutgers has already broken the dubious record of most passing yards given up (Fresno State, then SMU). The rush defense is still elite, good for 3rd nationally. That's obviously a tad inflated however, considering how pass happy the Bulldogs and Mustangs are.
Not everything is doom and gloom though. Gary Nova is living up to his hype from training camp that he is an improved player, throwing for 1171 yards and 13 TDs to 4 INTs. Young guys from the much-heralded 2012 recruiting class are starting to realize their potential, like WR Leonte Carroo and LB Steve Longa. The best surprise is without a doubt Paul James, a former walk-on that is 6th in the nation in rushing with only four games played. James is currently injured and will miss the matchup with Louisville, but true freshman Justin Goodwin filled in admirably for him against SMU, going for 193 yards on the ground and over 70 yards through the air.
TL;DR - Offense good, defense bad.
Regarding the American membership, I've actually got it down pat. The much harder question is who are the schools that now make up new Conference-USA. [ed. note: Truth be told, I really couldn't begin to tell you who is in either conference. Of course, I don't watch football, so there's that.]
2. Outside of Week 1, Rutgers has seemingly turned up the intensity on the defensive side of the ball. With what seems to be a ridiculously stingy defense that has only allowed 279 rushing yards this entire season, how has Rutgers succeeded on that side of the ball? More importantly, do you see that like something you can keep up indefinitely?
Rushing defense is one of two tenets that coach Kyle Flood lives by. He preaches that Rutgers will stop the run and pound the rock. Since Flood was promoted to head coach, RU has been incredibly stingy against the run. The defensive line is unbelievable at gap control and has the speed in the linebacker corps to limit outside runs.
Unfortunately, that hasn't really been as beneficial as one would hope, because it seems anyone can pass on the Knights. The idea is to make defenses one-dimensional, but the problem is that one dimension works quite a lot of the time. This has actually been a bit of a divisive topic on our boards lately, but I think more people are starting to realize stopping the run isn't so great when Garrett Gilbert, Mr. Interception himself, has no problem shredding Rutgers for almost 500 yards.
3. So far Rutgers has not been too bad offensively, but neither the passing nor the rushing game stand out nationally. For those of us who don't know much about your offense, what has stood out to you so far this season. Are there any players that have looked good that we should know about? If a fan was to tune in to a Rutgers game, who should we be watching?
Paul James was mentioned earlier, but he is currently recovering from a lower-leg injury. He'll be out for the Louisville game and possibly longer, but Justin Goodwin is a true freshman that rushed for 193 yards and gained 73 yards on two catches against SMU last Saturday. Both are big, bruising backs that favor running over defenders rather than juking them.
At wide receiver, future NFL Draft pick Brandon Coleman is having a quiet season, but sophomore WR Leonte Carroo has emerged as a true deep threat for QB Gary Nova. Carroo has a knack for making the big play under pressure, as the wideout's best plays have come on fourth down.
4. I'm asking both you and the team from Testudo Times the same thing, with your way out the door, is there any one team you feel the need to beat more than another? More importantly, is there anyone that you feel like you just cannot lose to this season?
Perfect timing for this question. Without a doubt, it's Louisville. This Thursday night, Rutgers and Louisville get the national spotlight as the Worldwide Leader will be on location at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The most famous win in Rutgers history was against Louisville in 2006, but the Scarlet Knights have a three-game losing streak to the Cardinals. Last year's game at Rutgers decided the BCS bid, as RU ended up blowing a 14-3 lead. Teddy Bridgewater looked like a hero and went on to beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl, while Rutgers ended the season on losing streak in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Virginia Tech, which will probably go down as one of the most unwatchable games in college football history.
This is the game that Rutgers fans have circled on their calendar, and with a win against Louisville, the BCS bid will be all but decided.
5. Finally, how is recruiting going? Are there any big fish you have landed since the B1G move? Do you find that things are going better for you now than they were when you were stuck in the Big East alone?
Kyle Flood is really benefitting from the B1G move. While he did sign a top-25 class in 2012, that was mostly Greg Schiano's doing. His first signed class in 2013 was a tad disappointing, as many sites had it ranked outside the top-40. Currently, his 2014 class is sitting at #19 ESPN, #19 Rivals, and #23 Scout. Saeed Blacknall, a 6'3" WR who spurned LSU and Alabama, is the most high-profile recruit, but WR Adonis Jennings and DB Kiy Hester are just as great. Jonathan Hilliman is a RB out of St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, NJ) who selected Rutgers over Ohio State and Michigan. NSD is still far away, but these players are Jersey guys who want nothing more than to represent Rutgers in the B1G.
Another huge thank you to Kevin Recio of On the Banks. He has been killing the football coverage over there. That team really knows their stuff and deserves a follow if you want to learn about Rutgers.