September 7, 2011

Week 2 preview in the Big East

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North Carolina Central is no North Carolina.

Rutgers will learn that much on the Scarlet Knights' first snap of the game, when its maligned offensive line tries to contain Tar Heels defensive end Quinton Coples.

Rutgers had arguably the worst offensive line in the country last season. By sack numbers, it was the worst, by a fairly wide margin. The Scarlet Knights' 61 sacks allowed were 10 more than anyone else in the country and 28 more than anyone else in the Big East.

THE SCHEDULE
FRIDAY
FIU at Louisville, 7 p.m.
SATURDAY
Rutgers at North Carolina, 12:30 p.m.
Norfolk State at West Virginia, 1 p.m.
Maine at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Cincinnati at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m.
Rhode Island at Syracuse, 4:30 p.m.
Ball State at USF, 7 p.m.
Connecticut at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m.
In the opener against FCS member North Carolina Central, the Scarlet Knights didn't allow any sacks and rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns. After last season, any amount of progress is significant, but North Carolina Central didn't have any NFL-bound defensive linemen. The Tar Heels do.

"They have great personnel," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "You're talking about No. 90 [Coples] who is going to be one of the top two or three guys drafted this year."

Schiano won't go so far as to call this a barometer for his revamped line, but it will be an important test. With standouts such as Pittsburgh's Brandon Lindsey, West Virginia's Bruce Irvin and Connecticut's Kendall Reyes, defensive line arguably is the strongest defensive position group in the Big East. If Rutgers is going to return to the postseason, its offensive line will need to be vastly improved from last season.

The line has undergone a youth movement, with sophomores Andre Civil (left tackle), David Osei (center) and Antwan Lowery (right guard) moving into the starting lineup. Seniors Art Forst and Caleb Ruch, both starters last season, now are backups.

While the new-look line didn't give up a sack, Rutgers averaged only 3.3 yards per carry and had no runs longer than 14 yards against an FCS opponent that went 3-8 last season.

"I thought we were OK," Schiano said. "We have a lot of room for improvement. We had some breakdowns in protection that forced our quarterback to run around, but we were able to get out of it with no sacks. I thought we ran the ball OK at times and at other times not so well.

"We need to make some big improvement between Week 1 and Week 2 because the defensive front that we're going against this week is as good as there is."

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Rutgers could be shorthanded. Senior left guard Desmond Wynn, a returning starter, is hobbled by a leg injury and might not play. Next in line would be redshirt freshman Betim Bujari, who impressed in backup duty in the opener. True freshman Kaleb Johnson also could see the field.

Whoever plays for Rutgers has to be ready for a defensive front that Schiano compared to the lines at Miami in 1999 and 2000, when Schiano was UM's defensive coordinator. That group included William Joseph, Damione Lewis and Jamaal Green.

Miami's coach then was Butch Davis, who was fired at North Carolina a month before the season began because of an NCAA investigation. Schiano has called Davis one of his best friends in coaching and the man who taught him how to be a head coach.

"Butch is a dear friend of mine, a mentor of mine," Schiano said. "He's a guy I would like to coach my sons if they were blessed enough to be able to play the game at the collegiate level. Butch is a man of integrity. I'm disappointed the way things went down the way they did.

"I don't want to speak for him, but it kind of got snatched from under him four weeks before the season. I can't imagine how difficult that is."

BEST MATCHUP: Cincinnati's defensive line vs. Tennessee's offensive line. Tennessee will provide the first major test for what Cincinnati hopes is an improved pass rush. The Bearcats moved Walter Stewart to end from linebacker. After reshaping his body over the offseason, Stewart, a 6-foot-5, 244-pound junior, has the physical tools to excel. Tennessee counters with sophomore OT Ja'Waun James, who was one of the best freshmen linemen in the SEC last season. The competition on the interior will be interesting if Cincy DT Derek Wolfe is matched up against sophomore C James Stone.

PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Louisville CB Anthony Conner. Conner, a senior, returned for his first game since a torn ACL suffered last season, and picked up his first career interception against Murray State. Coach Charlie Strong said Louisville needs a group effort to contain FIU star WR T.Y. Hilton, but Conner is the only non-freshman on Louisville's two-deep at cornerback.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Connecticut's backfield. The Huskies' quarterbacks and running backs remain a question mark as the Huskies visit Vanderbilt. Coach Paul Pasqualoni will continue to use a three-man rotation at quarterback until the choice on a No. 1 is clear. Junior Johnny McEntee started the opener against Fordham and had the best day as a passer (8-of-12, 113 yards). Scott McCummings threw the game's only touchdown pass (his only attempt, for 55 yards), but he was utilized more in running packages. Freshman Mike Nebrich was 3-of-8 for 60 yards with an interception. It's also worth watching the running backs. Redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs rushed for 141 yards and four touchdowns while D.J. Shoemate was sidelined with an ankle injury. Shoemate is optimistic he will return to face the Commodores.

NUMBERS GAME: Louisville committed 10 penalties against Murray State, including five false starts from an offensive line that featured no starters from last season. On one possession in the second quarter, LT Hector Hernandez was called for back-to-back false starts. On the following play, freshman QB Teddy Bridgewater was called for a delay of game.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

"I'm pretty sure I might hear boos. They might shout my name. I'm going to try my best to smile the whole game and just go out there and play." - Cincinnati WR Kenbrell Thompkins, to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Thompkins signed with Tennessee out of junior college but transferred to Cincinnati after then-coach Lane Kiffin left for USC

"Lee Roy is a big reason I'm here. One thing you'll find from anyone who had an opportunity to be around Lee Roy Selmon is what a presence he carried, the class and gentleness. I don't know if I've ever been as impressed with a gentleman as I was with Lee Roy in just one meeting. Once I met with him, I said, 'This is something I wanted to be part of.' That was the first time I met him." - USF coach Skip Holtz, on former USF athletic director - and Pro and College Football Hall of Famer - Lee Roy Selmon, who died this week of a stroke

"I don't know if we can cover him, but we're just going to have to have enough guys around him so that when he does catch the ball, we can get him on the ground." - Louisville coach Charlie Strong, on FIU WR T.Y. Hilton, who had 283 all-purpose yards against North Texas last week

"We had a lot of nervous energy out there. We missed basically four touchdowns where all we had to do was throw the ball to him and we're going to hit them. But shoulda, woulda don't count." - Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham

POLL WATCH: The Big East didn't have a team in the preseason coaches' poll, but West Virginia was ranked 24th after its victory over Marshall. The Mountaineers are the only Big East team in the coaches' top 25. USF received the 27th-most votes in the poll. In The Associated Press poll, West Virginia moved from No. 24 to No. 19 and USF entered the poll at No. 22.

ETC.: Louisville C Mario Benavides and DE B.J. Butler will be out with injuries for the second consecutive week. DT Brandon Dunn is uncertain. ... Syracuse DE Chandler Jones and CB Ri'Shard Anderson are out indefinitely with unspecified injuries. ... Rutgers CB Mason Robinson is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. He will try for a sixth year of eligibility. ... Pittsburgh starting OT Jordan Gibbs, who has asthma, hyperventilated early in the game last week and did not play after the first quarter. ... Connecticut DE Teddy Jennings had eight tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss starting in place of Jesse Joseph, who could miss up to a month with ankle injury. ... West Virginia's tailback depth may take a hit as Andrew Buie and Trae Johnson left the win over Marshall with injuries. Both are questionable. ... The Mountaineers averaged only 1.6 yards per carry against Marshall, but coach Dana Holgorsen said the blame isn't all on the line. Perimeter blocking from the receivers was a major issue, he said. ... Cincinnati's 387 rushing yards against Austin Peay were the most since the Bearcats rushed for 389 against Xavier in 1946. ... Louisville senior RB Victor Anderson's fumble in the third quarter against Murray State was the first of his career (414 career touches). ... Syracuse K Ross Krautman saw his streak of 16 consecutive made field goals end when an attempt was blocked against Wake Forest.

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David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.




 

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