Rutgers avoided going a calendar year without a win by beating FCS Morgan State 65-0 last Saturday. It came 364 days after the Scarlet Knights last win, just under the wire of the one-year anniversary. It’s been since mid-October of 2015 that Rutgers has won a Big Ten game, however.
I’m not sure I want to see what Lincoln will be like if that streak is snapped this weekend. But Nebraska’s going to have to go out and win this game. It can’t play poorly and expect to escape. If this was a win you penciled in prior to the season . . . well . . . I’m guessing Northern Illinois was as well.
Here’s a quick primer on Rutgers. (Note: The stats after three games are still pretty shaky given varying strength of schedules across the country. Just something to keep in mind.)
The Scarlet Knights are running the ball OK. Their 4.64 yards per carry (without removing sacks) ranks seventh in the Big Ten. Miami transfer Gus Edwards has the most carries, but Robert Martin isn’t far behind and has a better yards-per-carry. Freshman Raheem Blackshear is averaging 6.5 yards on 17 carries. There are some options here. The passing game, with Louisville transfer Kyle Bolin at quarterback, is about as efficient as Nebraska’s has been to this point, and the explosive plays (five per game) are about even, too.
But the bigger matchup will be the Rutgers defense against a Nebraska offense that’s struggling. The Scarlet Knights rank third in the Big Ten and 20th nationally at 2.90 rushing yards allowed per play. Through three games, this isn’t a high-sack/TFL defense, ranking 11th and 10th in the Big Ten in those two categories respectively. Rutgers (9th in the Big Ten) has limited explosive plays about as well as Nebraska (12th), which is to say both are still looking for improvement in that category after three games.
The key number, however, might be this one: Rutgers’ defense ranks third in the Big Ten in third-down defense with a conversion rate of 23.91 percent. Lest you think that number is propped up by games against Eastern Michigan and Morgan State, the Scarlet Knights held Washington to 27 percent in the opener.
And the most interesting wrinkle to this game? Rutgers defensive coordinator Jay Niemann previous employer was Northern Illinois. From NJ.com:
"I think it can help you because you know the skill sets of the players and you know a little about the personnel," Niemann said. "Not that all of those guys are the same ones as when I was there. Obviously the scheme stuff you take right off the film. But we're a team. They're a team. We're going to play them with a different group of guys."
Niemann worked for Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey from 2011-15 alongside his successor as defensive coordinator, Kevin Kane, so he has contacts in his rolodex if he wants to do some insider trading.
"We don't do that," Niemann said. "I respect everybody's preparation and how they have to go about things. They have to make the ones for them. We have to make the ones for us. For me, it doesn't do a whole lot to have those conversations."
Nebraska opened as an 11-point favorite, but the line was up to 14 points in some spots on Tuesday morning.
The Grab Bag
- Barry Alvarez offers some insight into Wisconsin's success. "We've done a good job of evaluating athletes and finding those that fit our culture here."
- Ole Miss is voting on whether it should ditch its Black Bear mascot in favor of the Landshark. (Please do this.)
- Adidas has surpassed Jordan Brand as the second-most popular sneaker in the U.S. Nike still leads the way.
- ICYMI: Press conference recaps for football and volleyball, post-practice comments from the Huskers' staff and a roundup of recruiting news from the weekend.
Today's Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.