Piscataway, NJ – The Rutgers Scarlet Knights got back into the national rankings after this past weekend and will look to say there when the Army Black Knights invade High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday for a late-season non-conference matchup.
It has been a less than successful season for Army this year. The Black Knights are coming into this game with just a 2-7 mark overall and playing on the road won't help as Army is 0-3 away from West Point this season. Army is fortunate enough to have the momentum of a win to build off of after posting a 41-21 triumph at home over Air Force last weekend. If Army hopes to surpass its win total from last season though there is still a great deal of work to do as the Knights need wins in two of their final three games.
Matching up with a 7-1 Rutgers team won't help in that regard. After starting the season 7-0 the Scarlet Knights lost in a perplexing 35-23 defeat at home to Kent State. Luckily the loss came out of conference play which keeps the Scarlet Knights on pace with Louisville for the Big East's best conference record (4-0).
There is also a bit more that Rutgers' will be forced to deal with beyond just a football game as the Scarlet Knights play in their first home game since Hurricane Sandy devastated their home state of New Jersey.
"I thought from a program standpoint the players and the coaches handled it about as well as we could," head coach Kyle Flood said. "I said this to the team last week, we were distracted as a program, but distracted for all the right reasons. But I think when we came back yesterday, it was a very focused group and a very good start to our game week."
Rutgers has dominated in the recent past against Army with wins in eight straight meetings. Overall Rutgers is 20-18 against the Black Knights, including an 11-5 mark at home. The two team's squared off in Yankee Stadium last season and Rutgers came away with a 27-12 win.
Army isn't going to surprise anyone, least of all a devastatingly strong defense like Rutgers, with its offensive gameplan. Army adheres to a run- option attack that almost ignores the pass altogether. On the season Army is the No. 1 rushing offense in the country piling up 3,370 yards on 609 attempts. The Black Knights run more than 65 run plays per game (67.7) which is nearly twice as many attempts as the squad has completions (36) this season.
With such little passing it's no wonder that there are a number of prolific rushers on the roster. Quarterback Trent Steelman is largely that in just name as he has rushed for a team-high 911 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Steelman has rushed for 100 yards five times this season, including in each of the last three games. Maples Raymond is the team's primary running back with 907 yards this season and may be even more relied on with Larry Dixon (591 yards) listed as questionable this weekend.
Army will want to build off of what was its best defensive effort of the season against Air Force. The Black Knights held what was the country's second-best rushing attack to just 103 yards, while allowing a season-low 21 points. Performances like that have not been common for Army which has given up 446 yards and 35.1 points per game.
In terms of individual performers Army has one of the best there is in terms of tackling in Geoffery Bacon. The sophomore linebacker has recorded 100 tackles this season making him one of just seven players in the country to have reached the century mark at this point. Nate Combs cannot boast such a gaudy tackle total, but his 11.0 for loss and 6.0 sacks are both team-highs.
Turnovers were what doomed Rutgers in its loss to Kent State. Despite throwing for more than 300 yards (313) for just the second time this season, Gary Nova also threw six interceptions which constantly kept Rutgers from finishing drives. It was a gigantic step backward for Nova who had thrown only three interceptions on the season coming in. Overall, Nova has now completed 59.9 percent of his pass attempts for 1,816 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
After leading the Big East in rushing for much of the season, Jawan Jamison was unseated by Cincinnati's George Winn after he rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown against Kent State. The interceptions had a detrimental effect on Jamison's production as his 15 carries were the second-lowest of the season. With that effort Jamison is now averaging 24 carries per game which is the most in the Big East. Jamison is even a vital part of the passing game with 23 receptions for 299 yards and a pair of scores through the air.
Obviously with Jamison being relied on that much there hasn't been as much opportunities for the receivers to really break out this season. Brandon Coleman (31 receptions, 450 yards, 6 TDs) is a big target that has shown flashes of big play ability. Mark Harrison (28 receptions, 282 yards, 4 TDs) and Tim Wright (27 receptions, 337 yards) are also in the mix.
The kicking game doesn't often factor into as much in terms of gameplan, but Rutgers may be without kicker Kyle Federico who is listed as questionable with a hip injury.
Playing a one-dimensional offense like Army's must have Flood's defense practically drooling. Rutgers has been sensational on defense this season especially against the run. The Scarlet Knights are the fourth best team in the country against the run (88.5 ypg) and the 14th best overall (306.).
Flood knows how good his defense can be and how important it will be to force Army into passing situations.
"As long as they feel like they're within striking distance, they don't change their personality," Flood said. "But if you're fortunate enough to get them in a situation where they have to throw it, that's not something that they are proficient at because it's not what they believe in."
The player to watch is Khaseem Greene, who has been as hard hitting as they come this season. Aside from leading the team in tackles (74) and sacks (3.5) Greene has also forced five fumbles this season, while also collecting a pair of interceptions. Logan Ryan has 53 tackles and has three INTs, tying him with Brandon Jones for the team lead.