After four straight eight-win seasons, Rutgers posted a 4-8 record in 2010, losing eight of its final 10 games. The Scarlet Knights ranked 114th nationally in total offense (294.9 ypg) and 65th in total defense (374.2 tpg), prompting 11th-year head coach Greg Schiano to shake up both his coaching staff and his roster. Frank Cignetti enters as Rutgers's new offensive coordinator following a stint at Pittsburgh and Schiano is said to be calling his defense once again, despite the fact that Bob Fraser is still officially listed as the team's defensive coordinator. Thirteen players also switched positions during the offseason in an attempt to increase team speed and provide depth in key areas.
The Scarlet Knights won their opener over N.C. Central, 48-0, but the victory failed to provide much insight into Rutgers' abilities, as the Eagles were playing in their first game as a full Division I participant. Sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd completed 9 of his 17 passes for 113 yards and one touchdown against N.C. Central after a solid freshman campaign (123-of-223 passing, 1,637 yards, 11 TD, 7 INT) in '10. The Scarlet Knights returned 15 starters – 10 offensive – from last season, but started eight players for the first time last week.
"They are very, very talented. They have a lot of NFL talent. Butch [Davis] does a tremendous job of recruiting and gathering talented players. There's really not a weak spot on their football team." – Schiano on North Carolina
"I know a few times we missed some line calls [against N.C. Central]. Once we critique that and fix it, the running game can be a lot more productive." – Dodd
"Odd is not the word. I'm really disappointed. Butch and Tammy Davis are as good of people as there are in college football. I know Butch and the way he runs a program and I'm just – I feel so bad that he's not [coaching]. I feel bad for their players… I was reading an article, the players, the first thing they wanted to do was give a game ball to Coach Davis. And I can see that, because Butch cares about kids and he does things the right way." – Schiano on Butch Davis's dismissal
Matchups to Watch
Rutgers's Ground Game vs. UNC's Run Defense
It will be awhile -- if ever -- before North Carolina fans forgive Savon Huggins for his much-publicized hat switch in committing to Rutgers over the Tar Heels last January. Fortunately for the UNC fan base, they will get a chance to voice their displeasure on Saturday as Huggins arrives as part of a multifaceted rushing attack for the Scarlet Knights.
Huggins appeared to be living up to his recruiting ranking during the early part of Rutgers' training camp, rushing for 168 yards on 26 carries in the first scrimmage. But it was junior De'Antwan Williams that started against N.C. Central, churning out 44 yards on 11 carries. Red-shirt freshman Jawan Jamison led all running backs with 54 yards on 17 carries, while Huggins managed 32 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
Cignetti has also moved former tailback Joe Martinek (967 yards, 9 TD in ‘09, pictured right) to fullback, so there are plenty of options available in his rushing attack. But there has to be a level of concern that Rutgers only totaled 137 rushing yards on a 3.3 yards-per-carry average against the outgunned Eagles.
Not helping the situation is an offensive line boasting a combined 21 starts, and 13 of those belong to senior right tackle Desmond Stapleton. Senior left guard Desmond Wynn (16 starts) suffered a knee injury last week and appears to be doubtful to play on Saturday.
North Carolina counters with one of the top front seven's in the ACC, led by 2010 first-team All-ACC defensive end Quinton Coples and preseason All-ACC defensive tackle Tydreke Powell. The Tar Heels limited James Madison's run-oriented offense last week to 59 rushing yards on 39 carries, good for a 1.5 yards-per-carry average.
"[Coples] is as good a player as there is in America," Schiano said. "He'll be a second or third pick in the draft, I think. You are looking at guys that are NFL players and then they have some young defensive linemen that are really good as well. Some of these guys were forced into action last year because of some of the suspensions, so now they have a little experience. The linebackers run very, very well."
Look for North Carolina to focus on limiting Rutgers's ground game on first and second downs, which will force Dodd into obvious passing downs and allow for the Tar Heels to be aggressive in their pass rush.
UNC's Bryn Renner vs. Rutgers's Secondary
As expected, Renner's 22-of-23 passing display for 277 yards, two touchdowns and an interception didn't look as flawless in the film room on Sunday as it did on the football field.
"I graded out pretty well, but I definitely made a lot of mistakes [on Saturday] that were unseen," Renner said. "I know I need to correct a lot of things. Just the whole game… The stats are great, but the way I play, I definitely need to improve, especially for Rutgers coming in here this week."
Even so, Renner's debut proved that North Carolina has a legitimate weapon under center. Couple that fact with talented playmakers at wide receiver and running back and a veteran offensive line and the stage is set for Renner to have more positive outings than not.
Sophomore cornerbacks Brandon Jones and Logan Ryan will start on Saturday with four combined starts between them, and top reserve Mason Robinson – also RU's starting punt returner – tore his ACL last week and is out for the season.
"We need to make the plays at the corner position when they are presented," Schiano said. "And no knock on N.C. Central, but the level of competition we are going to be going against at wide receiver (is at another level). They are big, they are fast, and they really understand the system."
With Schiano now calling the defensive sets, Rutgers will assuredly blitz from various spots on the field. Ten different Scarlet Knights contributed in the team's nine sacks against N.C. Central.