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Game Preview: #3 Virginia Tech vs. Rutgers
by Jeff Ouellet, 10/17/02

Saturday, October 19th, 2002, 1:00 Eastern

TV: None, nowhere, not even locally.  Don't ask.

Saturday forecast: (as of 4:00 pm, 10/17/02):
Cloudy, (30% chance of rain), High of 62į, low of 53į

Click here for TechSideline.com's Rutgers/VT roster card


(Note: Jeff Ouellet filled in again this week, and we are in his debt. Thanks again, Jeff!)

It is hard to believe, but after the 6-0 and third-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies take on the 1-5 Rutgers Scarlet Knights this weekend in Blacksburg, the regular season will be more than half completed. For the VT faithful, it has been a spectacular, and in many respects unexpected, ride. For the Rutgers fans, both of you, there hasnít been a whole lot to cheer about on Saturdays. Look at the bright side though Ė James Gandolfini of "The Sopranos" makes sure the weekend isnít a total wash.

As a good fan, I really try to buy into Frank Beamerís party line about all opponents being created equal, but I just canít do it this week. With one notable exception, a very competitive loss at Tennessee where Rutgers led at half 14-7 (and should have been up 21-7), Rutgers has been horrid all year. The Scarlet Knights opened the year by losing to Villanova and Buffalo. They not only lost, they lost big Ė by a combined score of 71-30. Last week against West Virginia, in a 40-0 loss, through 59 minutes Rutgers had 1 rushing yard. One.

The Offensive Side of the Ball for Rutgers

Rutgers has two players that split time at QB, senior walk-on Ted Trump and t-sophomore Ryan Cubit, the son of Rutgers offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. Trump is expected to get the nod on Saturday. Trumpís numbers are not good, as he has completed only 44.5% of his passes and has thrown four touchdowns versus nine interceptions.

Cubit showed some promise as a true freshman last year, but he has struggled this year. It appears Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano is banking on redshirting freshman Ryan Hart as the long-term answer.

So, Rutgers must turn to the running game to take the pressure off, right? Try again. The Scarlet Knights are averaging 2.1 yards per carry on the season, and as of yet I have not heard of any formal Rutgers petition allowing for five downs to move the sticks, so the rushing game wonít help much. Besides, it is unlikely the Big East would grant such a petition Ė unless, of course, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish asked for it.

The Scarlet Knights have two backs that split time, and t-freshman Markis Facyson is the leading rusher, with sophomore Clarence Pittman very close behind. Pittman gained 100 yards versus Tennessee, but neither one of the backs averages even 3.5 yards per carry. It is tough to envision a worse mismatch than the Rutgers rushing offense going against a Hokie defense that is number one in the country against the run at 49 yards per game.

It appears that the only veteran Rutgers offensive player with legitimate NFL aspirations is TE L.J. Smith. Smith contemplated going pro early last year, and he has a solid frame at 6-4, 252 lbs. He is far and away the leading receiver for Rutgers, with 22 receptions for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns. The second leading receiver is WR Chris Baker. Unfortunately for Rutgers, according to Schiano, Baker is out "for a while" because of a stress fracture in his foot, and Smith is questionable for this game because of a knee injury.

The offensive line has several key injuries, and they have already allowed 19 sacks on the season. I have to believe Rutgers is going to have to go to a three step drop in order to try to keep their quarterbacks in one piece. Remember they still have games against Miami and Notre Dame.

I could throw out any number of statistics to put the Rutgers offense in perspective, including the fact they have three points total in their first two Big East Conference games, but hereís one you may not have heard already: last week against WVU they finished the game with 90 total yards of offense. They had 96 total yards in penalties. Ouch.

The Rutgers Defense

Schiano made his name as a defensive guy, most recently as the defensive coordinator down at Miami. Although this unit is far from stellar, they are much better than the offense. The leading tackler, and heart of the defense, is senior middle linebacker Gary Brackett. Brackett also leads the team in tackles for losses and sacks (with only two), and has an interception and a fumble recovery to his credit.

Senior FS Shawn Seabrooks led Rutgers in tackles last year, and he is third on the team this year. Seabrooks is a tough, fly-to-the-ball player, and he makes a lot of tackles in part because of the struggles in the front seven for Rutgers. I have always been impressed by him, though.

The defensive line is nondescript, but senior defensive end Raheem Orr, if memory serves, was a blue chipper out of high school that signed with Michigan and ultimately returned home. That would suggest that Orr is, at the very least, a physical specimen at 6-4, 240. He has yet to put up big numbers, however.

Overall, Rutgers is giving up 28 points per game and 362 yards of total offense and they really havenít played many good offensive teams. It is tough to imagine them slowing down the Hokie running game.

Why should you care about the game?

Just in case the game turns out to be less than competitive, as the numbers suggest, here are five reasons to pay attention anyway:

  1. The first significant game action for DT Jimmy Williams, a guy that could be a key against some of the better running teams down the line like WVU and Miami. Obviously, VTís defensive tackles have played very well regardless, but Jimmy just adds a physical presence because of his size that could be important later.
  2. Hopefully, some significant playing time for lots of r-freshmen and t-freshmen that are one play away from prime time. In particular, I will be hoping that backup offensive tackles Jimmy Martin and Reggie Butler see some time, as well as S Jimmy Williams.
  3. Recruits, recruits, recruits. We have one big time recruit that will be officially visiting Ė five-star running back Tyrone Moss Ė as well as several other big time unofficial visitors. Letís show them how excited VT fans can be regardless of the scoreboard!
  4. Offensively, continued improvement and more liberal use of the passing game (hopefully). Defensively, if he plays, LJ Smith is a handful, and he will be good practice for Tech's linebackers, with UVaís Heath Miller and UM stud TE Kellen Winslow, Jr. still on the schedule. The linebackers struggled a little in coverage against BC RB Derrick Knight (admittedly Baaqee was hurting on that ankle).
  5. If this game gets a little out of hand, we may get a public announcement along the following lines: "Will the holder of lucky program number 3,437 please report to the VT sideline Ė you will be the next Hokie QB."

The Lowdown

Regardless of how hard you try, you canít spell Rutgers without the RUTS (famed TSL columnist Jim Aldersonís acronym for "running up the score"). Schiano has recruited well the past two years and eventually Rutgers may be competitive, but right now, they are a really bad team. This one should be over early. I wonít predict the shutout, though, because I have a feeling a turnover may lead to some points for the Scarlet Knights. Hey, there has to be some danger in this prediction!

Prediction: VT 48, Rutgers 3

          

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