Jon from the Bleed Scarlet blog has been kind enough to answer some questions about Rutgers. You can see my answers to his question on his blog.
1. The injury status of freshman QB Tom Savage (great name btw) is up in the air. If Savage doesn't get the start what can we expect from senior Domenic Natale?
Jon from Bleed Scarlet: From his play in the opener vs. Cincinnati, Dom Natale is a bit of a mixed bag. He has decent scrambling ability, and is fairly accurate. He showed that he can move the ball a little yardage wise. Doesn't really have a cannon for an arm though. The problem in was with turnovers. Natale was locking on to receivers, and forcing too many throws. It didn't help that the offensive line looked green in pass protection, and made a lot of mistakes that day. Savage's status is unclear (the implication is that he had a minor concussion, although there hasn't been any direct confirmation), so Natale may play. He's the only realistic option, because Jabu Lovelace is solely used for a special option package.
Savage probably gives the team a better chance to win, although he will make his share of freshman mistakes. They've been keeping it simple for him, with a lot of quick outs, and more Shotgun than we're used to seeing. A lot will depend on the receiving corps, where Rutgers is very inexperienced behind the starters. My hope is that the offense will do a better job of getting the Tight End and backs involved in the receiving game to take some pressure off whoever does ends up starting. Running the ball effectively, and subsequently some play action would do wonders too. They'll need to get into a rhythm fast in a hostile environment, and keep a fast tempo up.
2. Rutgers is supposed to have a running back by committee with Joe Martinek and Jourdan Brooks but Martinek is getting the majority of the carries. Is Martinek the main horse now? How do their running styles differ?
Coach Schiano isn't big on platooning backs. His preference is for a bonafide starter to emerge, and give that player 25-30 carries a game. Martinek and Brooks were running neck and neck during training camp, and are currently listed as co-starters on the depth chart. What they've been doing is that they'll both see a series or two early in games, and whoever looks better ends up toting the rock the rest of the day.
Martinek is probably the better fit at the moment with the offensive line still struggling with run blocking. He can make quick cuts with his slashing style, and has better vision for finding holes. Joe's more of an all purpose guy - he hits the whole quick, and can break a few tackles running downhill.
Brooks hasn't looked bad, but his problem at the moment is that, while he has good top end speed, he doesn't have a lot of short area acceleration. Hence, the poor run blocking has meant that he keeps getting tackled for losses on plays where Martinek will at least make it back to the LOS if not gain a yard or two. Jourdan is a big back, and he has good long speed if he can get into the flat with a blocker, or some empty space ahead of him. They've been using him a bit as a battering ram to soften up defenses over the course of the game.
Last week also saw the return of Kordell Young as a third down specialist. He's a quicker back who's had a few knee injuries, and is used for screens and the like. He replaced the injured Mason Robinson in that role, and the freshman De'Antwan Williams is nipping at Young's heels.
3. How has the Rutger's defense been performing so far? Any players Maryland fans should watch out for?
The defense looked atrocious in the opener. Cincinnati ran a spread offense where they'd line up in the Shotgun with four or five receivers, simply throw to the open guy that found the hole in zone coverage, and sprint downfield as the DBs would miss tackle after tackle. That strategy got Rutgers out of its element on defense. Its strength is with the front seven. The linebackers are very good, and the getting after the passer has always been the team's M.O. on defense under Greg Schiano and his attacking, speed-heavy 4-3 scheme. They need to be moving forward, not backpedalling into coverage.
The good news is that it looks like the problems may have had more to do with Cincy's superior personnel than with scheme (although, Coach Schiano has tinkered with the depth chart a bit over the past two weeks). FIU tried to spread RU out as well, to little effect. For teams that have a good QB and depth at receiver though, Rutgers only has one returning starter at CB this year in Devin McCourty, so it's possible to pick on the other corners on the field.
As you may recall from the 2007 game, the defense is very undersized up front, with the line averaging 260 lbs or so. If Maryland can get some push up front between the tackles, they'll be able to move the chains all day. The main difference from two years ago is that the team's best player, MLB Ryan D'Imperio, provided a big upgrade to the team's run defense when he returned from his injured 2007 campaign last year. All of the tacklers can be aggressive to the point of overpursuing, and sometimes they'll give up big plays on say a draw when sending in a defensive back or two on a zone blitz.
It's a good unit overall. If they can get to Turner before his receivers get a chance to get open, force a few early throws, and make him fear footsteps, that'll be a big help on Saturday. I'm concerned about our offense, but expect the defense to show up and play well.
4. Special teams seem to be a little of a problem area for Rutgers. The return game could use some improvement but how is the kicking game and punt coverage?
Actually, the special teams look far improved to this point, after being dreadful in 2007, and still bad last year. Coverage and returns look far, far better; although players on both units are still prone to mental gaffes. Rutgers plays it very conservative on returns, but loves trying to block kicks and punts. Kicker San San Te has decent range on field goals, but I'm still not sold on his accuracy. Not saying that it's bad, but he hasn't had enough opportunities to this point to prove himself, and was battling a back injury last year. With the Maryland/MTSU game coming down to a field goal, it's a concern. Punter Teddy Dellaganna has shown improvement to this point. He has a very strong leg, but still needs a bit more polish when it comes to the intracacies of the position. The team is also breaking in a new long snapper and holder.
Thanks to Jon for some good analysis.