Unless you were under a rock, which sounds uncomfortable, you probably heard about Virginia Tech’s invitation to play in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Rutgers.
What you might not know is a whole lot about Rutgers. Here’s a primer on the Scarlet Knights …
** This is among the school’s best seasons. Rutgers played in the first intercollegiate football game against Princeton back in 1869, then did very little for the next 140 years. But the Scarlet Knights, who will soon join the Big Ten, have made giant strides in the last decade. Greg Schiano turned the program around from Big East bottom feeder to legitimate contender, guiding Rutgers to an 11-2 record in 2006 (Ray Rice had a little bit to do with that).
Schiano left for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason, a week before signing day. The school promoted offensive line coach/assistant head coach Kyle Flood to take his place, a move that at the time was thought just to keep Rutgers’ recruiting class in place. All Flood has done in his first season on the sideline is lead the Scarlet Knights to a 9-3 record and their first-ever share of a Big East title. They’re shooting for only the program’s third 10-win season at the Russell Athletic Bowl.
** A brief scouting report on Rutgers would be this: strong defense, mediocre offense, opportunistic special teams. Sound familiar? Flood said on the conference call last night that Rutgers has built the its program in the mold of the old Virginia Tech teams, particularly with regards to special teams. The Scarlet Knights, while not great on punts or punt returns, have blocked eight kicks this year, tops in the nation. Since 2009, their 31 blocked kicks lead the nation by a substantial margin, seven ahead of second-place Fresno State.
But it’s the defense that Rutgers really hangs its hat on. The Scarlet Knights are fourth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 14.3 points per game. They’re 14th in total defense, allowing 321.3 yards per game. They’re 11th in rushing defense, giving up only 105.0 yards per game They’re 25th in pass efficiency defense. Their 29 turnovers forced are tied for 14th nationally. And they’re 19th nationally in tackles for a loss with 7.08 a game. So there aren’t a lot of holes in that group.
All-American candidate linebacker Khaseem Greene leads the team with 125 tackles, adding 10.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks. He was the Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year last season and figures to have a good shot at repeating this year. His 10.4 tackles per game lead the Big East. Cornerback Logan Ryan is the only player in the country with at least 85 tackles, four interceptions and 18 passes defended.
How about this for a magic number? Since 2000, Rutgers is 44-4 when holding opponents to less than 300 yards. The Scarlet Knights allowed over 400 yards just twice this year — 492 at Arkansas and 418 to Syracuse. They won both games.
** Offensively, Rutgers does not appear to be flashy. The offensive stats are not eye-popping. Rutgers is 94th nationally in scoring offense (22.4 ppg), 100th in total offense (341.1 ypg), 83rd in passing (215.2 ypg) and 100th in rushing (125.9 ypg).
Running back Jawan Jamison went over the 1,000-yard mark with 1,054 yards this season. He’s only the third Rutgers runner to top 1,000 yards in a season since 1976. (Rice did it twice, including a 2,102-yard effort in 2007; Terrell Willis in 1993 was the other.)
Quarterback Gary Nova threw for 2,566 yards and 22 touchdowns this year, but he’s also interception-prone. He threw 15 picks, including six in a 35-23 home loss to Kent State in late October. Going back to his time at Don Bosco Prep, He’s 36-5 as a starting quarterback. Rutgers protects him. The Scarlet Knights’ eight sacks allowed are tied for fourth-fewest in the nation.
** This team has done well in bowls. Rutgers has won five straight bowl games, the longest active bowl winning streak in the country. Here are the matchups. Seven of the school’s bowls have come since 2005:
- 2005: Insight, L 45-40 vs. Arizona State
- 2006: Texas, W 37-10 vs. Kansas State
- 2007: International, W 52-30 vs. Ball State
- 2008: PapaJohns.com, W 29-23 vs. N.C. State
- 2009: St. Petersburg, W 45-24 vs. Central Florida
- 2011: Pinstripe, W 27-13 vs. Iowa State
- 2012: Russell Athletic, ? vs. Virginia Tech
** The series with Virginia Tech is pretty lopsided in the Hokies’ favor. Rutgers won the first three games in the series, the first two back in the day and the third in 1992 once the two became Big East foes. That ’92 game was a 50-49 final, with Bryan Fortay throwing a 15-yard touchdown pass to Chris Brantley as time expired to pull off the one-point win in Piscataway, N.J.
“I’ve been trying to forget that one,” Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer joked Saturday night.
Since then, it’s been all Tech. The Hokies won the next 11 matchups by an average of 29.3 points before bolting for the ACC in 2004. Of course, all that came before Schiano turned the program around.
** What do we know about Rutgers the school? Founded in 1766 as the all-male Queens College, it’s the eighth oldest college in the United State. It’s official title now is Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, designated as such in 1945. Its three campuses are in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden, N.J. It has more than 58,000 students (43,380 undergrad).
Famous alumni include: Smith College President Carol Tecla Christ, novelist Janet Evanovich, Ford Motor Company president for the Americas Mark Fields, actor James Gandolfini, NBA commissioner David Stern and Virginia Tech beat writer Mike Barber.
** There hasn’t been a line set that I’ve seen. I imagine it will be pretty close. And I’d think the over under would be pretty low. A 10-7 game wouldn’t seem too far-fetched in this one.