Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Rutgers Run Defense Should Provide Physical Challenge for Nebraska

October 06, 2022

It is Oct. 6, 2022. The Nebraska Cornhuskers are arriving in Piscataway, N.J. with a chance to go 3-3 overall, 2-1 in the Big Ten.

Nebraska hasn’t won consecutive games since beating Fordham (Sept. 4) and Buffalo (Sept. 11) in 2021. That was 390 days ago. It has been 1,419 days since Nebraska beat Michigan State 9-6 on Nov. 17, 2018. That was the last time the Huskers won consecutive conference games (54-35 win over Illinois the week before).

Transfer edge rusher Ochaun Mathis said after Scott Frost was fired that it felt like a losing culture at Nebraska. Coaches, led by interim head coach Mickey Joseph, have tackled that stigma ever since. And now, after beating Indiana, the Huskers have a chance to turn those streaks back to 0 days on Friday night against Rutgers.


In a harsh U-turn from last week, Rutgers’ offense is based in a grinding run game. Samuel Brown leads the Scarlet Knights on the ground with 210 yards and two touchdowns on 42 carries but Kyle Monangai has the most carries with 46 for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Al-Shadee Salaam also has 148 yards on 27 carries out of the backfield this season.

Nebraska defensive coordinator Bill Busch said the Huskers are preparing for three quarterbacks. One is Evan Simon, who has the most attempts this year with 115 dropbacks. There’s also Gavin Wimsatt, who has run for 106 yards and thrown for 117 but is also healing from a foot injury. Former Husker Noah Vedral is coming off an injury from camp and made his season debut against Ohio State last week. The Wahoo native started against the Buckeyes but did not return after the opening drive and didn’t attempt a pass. Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said earlier this week that they want to ease Vedral back into the offense but wanted him to experience starting a game before letting him loose.

“They all can throw and they can all run the ball,” Busch said. “They’re very well schemed in that area.”

Schiano noted complications in playing against a defense that truly only has a game of film since a coaching change. So Rutgers will implement its game plan based on previous schemes and the Indiana game.

Advanced statistics rate the Scarlet Knights’ offense as No. 105 in the country with a 37% success rate. That offense scored 66 against Wagner, 22 against Boston College and 16 against Temple in wins but managed just 10 points each in recent losses to Iowa and Ohio State, two of the top-ranked defenses in the Big Ten.

Rutgers is also 72% in red zone scoring with just 44% of trips inside the 20 ending in touchdowns.


Nebraska’s emphasis on toughness against a physical Rutgers defense. The Scarlet Knights currently rank No. 18 in the country by allowing an average 282.2 yards per game. Outside of the Wagner game, however, they’ve allowed 316.5 per game, including 413 last week against No. 1 Ohio State.

It’s the tough run defense that frustrated the top-ranked Buckeyes in the second half that Husker coaches are preparing for.

“Rutgers has a really tough defense that’s really good against the run. I think they’ve only given up 292 yards or something like that per game,” Joseph said this week. “(Greg) Schiano, if you know one thing about him, he’s going to have tough football teams. So it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a 907 drill.”

This offers a new physical challenge for Nebraska’s offensive line, as well as running back Anthony Grant. Grant is averaging 120 yards per game with five touchdowns so far while Gabe Ervin Jr., just into the second spot on the depth chart, averages 5.5 yards per carry.

Joe Harasymiak is in his first year as defensive coordinator for the Scarlet Knights, who held Ohio State to just 161 passing yards last week. But it’s the efficiency in pass defense the Scarlet Knights have struggled with. Opposing quarterbacks are 68 of 115 (59%) against Rutgers and average 7.01 yards per pass attempt, 11.87 per completion. For comparison, Casey Thompson is 94 or 144 (65.28%) and averaging 253 passing yards per game.

Rutgers is +1 in the turnover margin with six interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Special Teams

Rutgers punter Adam Korsak averages 43 yards per boot. Twelve of Korsak’s 21 punts were fair caught, nine went inside the 20 and none went into the end zone. Three of those went over 50 yards.

Kicker Jude McAtamney is 7 of 9 this season with a long of 49 yards. He missed a 32-yard kick against Wagner and a 38-yard kick against Temple.

Rutgers has just 19 punt return yards so far.

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