Craig Has The Scout - Rutgers 2021
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Who: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
When: 11:00am - October 30th, 2021
Where: Home Sweet Home
Head Coach: Greg Schiano. Schiano came to Rutgers to bring back some semblance of competent football. He walked into an athletic department in shambles, similar to Illinois during the not-a-dagger time frame. He took his learnings from his time at Ohio State on what it takes to compete at the high levels, and received a commitment to upgrade to compete. Maybe not at the level of Ohio State, but in the B1G. So far he has made big strides in recruiting and facilities. The on the field product is improved but still a work in progress.
Offensive Style: Spread using multiple formations and tempo. Sean Gleeson is the OC, who replaced Mike Yurcich at Oklahoma State. Gleeson has integrated multiple Air Raid concepts with the horizontal attacks similar to the Scott Frost attack. The offense is not particularly effective this year (108th YTD) but will take advantage of opportunities opponents provide.
Defensive Style: 4-3 utilizing Cover 4 extensively. Robb Smith is a traditional 3-4 DC, but is running a 4-3 (3 DL and a stand-up DE). The Scarlet Knights run a great deal of Nickel against most teams, but that didn't work so well for Penn State. The Cover 4 will help with the run fits the Scarlet Knights would want against the Illini.
Specialists: The Rutgers special teams are one of the best units in the country. The Scarlet Knights are 2nd nationally in net punting and don't allow many returns.
Three Things to Watch
3rd down conversions. Rutgers is in the midst of a 4-game losing streak. Three of those games are against top 10 teams. Illinois hit 50% against Penn State, and will need to be there in order to win.
Red Zone conversions. Illinois is converting 70% of their trips to the red zone this year. Half of those conversions are FGs though. Rutgers is converting at 74% with 52% being TDs. Michigan and Michigan State forced multiple field goal attempts for Rutgers. The inability to score in the red zone doomed Rutgers in those games.
Tackles for Loss. Illinois and Rutgers both struggle once they fall behind on standard downs. Both offenses are among the worst at allowing opposing defenses to generate TFLs. The team that can disrupt the line of scrimmage will control the game.
Scouting Review - Offense
Sean Gleeson has a motley crew of personnel he is trying to mold into an offense. Rutgers has had eight OCs over the last 10 years, and have not had a coherent offensive scheme in that time. The Gleeson offense is unique as well, which isn't helping the personnel issues.
Gleeson hit the transfer portal to try and fill the holes in personnel. Noah Vedral, a transfer from Nebraska, is the QB they are utilizing. Vedral is a mismatch for what Gleeson wants to run, but the most effective option on the roster. Gleeson also utilizes Johnny Langan in short-yardage situations. Gleeson returned all his starters from last year and the offense moved the ball early in the season. Opposing defenses have stymied the offense lately though and Rutgers is averaging 11 points per game in the last four.
Rutgers does have skill position talent. Isaih Pacheco is the bellcow running back. Pacheco is averaging 3.5 yards/carry though. Aron Cruickshank, a transfer from Wisconsin, is used as a jet sweep and receiving threat. Bo Melton is the top receiver and was all-B1G last season. The running game is meh, but the short passing game is dangerous.
The primary run attack is an inside zone read option attack with an RPO attachment. The play is reasonably standard in college football these days. Rutgers moves around the RPO action though, which puts pressure on varying parts of the defense. Here is the standard hitch RPO actions.
This was back to back plays against Syracuse and seen in every game. They will run the same look with a backside RPO as well.
The defense needs to remain alert to this backside passing attack. The receivers will take what the defense gives, and if the corner is tight they will run a slant.
There is another set of plays that are part of this same run action. The Scarlet Knights run a pure read-option out of this vs. the RPO action shown above. Vedral rides the option deep on the action.
Vedral has a nice read on the DE, and his deep option read froze the DE. Here is the same look.
The look here is run out of a 5 man OL set up. The Rutgers OL doesn't generate much push in run sets, but will open holes horizontally.
The read option preferred blocking scheme though is Power. The man blocking scheme allows the Scarlet Knights to get a numbers advantage on the play-side.
The read is on the back-side. Vedral will pull this on occasion, but most of the time these runs are straight hand-offs to Vedral. Here is the same look against Michigan.
An odd thing to observe on the pulling blocks. The pulling guard crosses over his feet on the pull.
The Scarlet Knights will run the same blocking scheme with an outside run element attached to it as well. The run fits are inverted in this instance, with the back attacking the edge and the QB utilizing the power block upfront.
The Orange were in a blitz here which forced the read to the outside. The pulling guard had a nice seal block as well. Vedral is most likely to keep out of this run format.
Vedral is reading Hutchison from Michigan on this play. The read on Hutchison was part of the axiom; if you can't block them, read them. Vedral is an effective runner and was recruited to Nebraska for the Scott Frost offense. They have added the counter read-option run play as well.
Gleeson moves the read often to the top opposing DL. I would expect Carney and Randolph to see reads this week and need to be prepared.
There are some pre-snap reads and built into the power run scheme. Here is one play where the OL runs the standard power blocking scheme, but the skill position players are running a pass play at the snap.
Another front blocking scheme they use is the buck sweep.
Rutgers ran this after Syracuse continually got pressure on the edges but not in between the tackles. The buck sweep action allowed them to kick out the end and drive upfield.
The run options above are pretty part and parcel. Where Rutgers gets clever is when they begin moving around players to create distractions and eye candy. They run the standard split-zone run with the TE coming across the formation in a wham block and the read is the defensive end. Rutgers will start introducing motion to confuse linebackers and release receivers. The easiest add is a simple RPO concept to the play.
The run action sucks up the LBs, and the slot receiver pulls the nickel back forward. The combined motions opens up the post route that Vedral hits. Beyond this easy add, they will begin adding more complex concepts.
In this instance, Rutgers has a 2-man route with two posts deep. Michigan covered the posts and Vedral checked down to the RB in the flat. The boundary corner sees the play-action pass and gets depth under the route Vedral wants to throw. The safety had the top end of the route.
The next level is more complex motion, along with personnel the defense has to keep track of for the play. Rutgers likes to put the WR in motion pre-snap.
The WR comes back in an orbit motion which bounces all the LBs over and pulls a safety forward. The H-back on this play is actually the back-up QB, which is a personnel grouping the Illini will need to keep an eye on. The orbit motion wide receiver pulls the far side cornerback. The passing routes involve the far-side WR running a deep post, which clears the safety, and the TE coming after to the space vacated by the safety. To defend this, the entire defense needs to be sound in their assignments.
Here is another version where they motion the wide receiver in a jet motion look, and hit the WR on the drag route.
All the motion freezes the linebackers and the WR slides right behind them. Had Vedral looked deeper, he had the other WR on a post route. Michigan defended this well, and the multiple actions still allowed a big play for Rutgers.
Another aspect of the run game is the jet sweeps they use with Cruickshank. The Wisconsin transfer ran one of these about once a game his last year for the Badgers. He is running more than one a game this season at Rutgers.
He was credited with a reception on this one. He has a rush doing this six times this season in addition.
Rutgers shows a half motion often in the standard offense. Here, they use the half motion to set up the jet sweep. The motion is not just Cruickshank sweeps though. As seen above, they use the motion as part of the read option run game.
The read here appears to be the play-side linebacker. The read-option mixed with the jet motion freezes the LBs and allows Cruickshank the edge. Additionally, they run a play-action passing attack using the motion.
This play works out to Rutgers wildest dreams. The nickel blitzes, which means the safety picks up the jet motion and vacates the space where the receiver catches the touchdown.
The other formation Rutgers likes to utilize is a shotgun pro-set. The set utilizes the two running backs and an RPO passing attack.
This is a read-option of the defensive end with the receivers blocking downfield on the snap. They'll also mix in RPOs similar to the other runs.
In both of these instances, the front is blocking a power run scheme. This is the backside RPO they use with the zone schemes as well.
The Scarlet Knights will motion running backs both into and out of the backfield. Many sets start empty, with the RB motioning into the backfield. In the Pro Shotgun sets they will motion a RB out of the backfield.
This is setup for a deep corner shot. The defensive backs for Syracuse read this well and as a result Vedral dumped it down. On the very next play, Rutgers used the same formation to complete an out.
Rutgers has a 7-man protection scheme here. The Orange were defending with inside leverage against Rutgers. This allowed the WR to run the out route with little interference. Rutgers will hold formations once they find a mismatch to take advantage of the mismatch.
As mentioned above, the Scarlet Knights will motion backs into and out of the backfield. They will show empty often to start. Here they motion the RB into the set.
The back comes out and is a lead blocker. The Scarlet Knights like using the WR screen game, and will use it out of multiple formations.
In this instance, they use the motion to get 4 WR on the side and utilize the motion WR as a blocker again. The WR screen is a big part of the offense, and they use the skill position players as the primary blockers.
Vedral does not have a strong arm for downfield throws, so on long distance downs the Scarlet Knights utilize quick throws and try to utilize numbers blocking on the perimeter. Most of the passing game for Rutgers is quick game related, similar to the Bill Cubit offense. The QB is asked to get the ball out quickly, and if the pass isn't open the QB is asked to run.
From a personnel perspective, Illinois needs to keep track of the players on the field. Vedral is the normal QB, but Langan (#21) will enter the game in different packages. He is the short yardage running QB, but will also move to other positions (such as H-back).
The Rutgers offense will hit quickly on passes and run the power run game. Vedral will generally give in the read-option game, but is a solid runner and dangerous when he pulls the ball. Illinois will need to be assignment sound and keep track of the eye candy. Rutgers does not have a potent offensive attack but can break plays on assignment breakdowns.
Scouting Review - Defense
The Scarlet Knights defense has some major gaps. Robb Smith has been doing a slow transformation from a 4-3 to a modified 3-3-5. The defense aggressively attacks opponents to wreak havoc behind the line of scrimmage. Last year the defense was more successful at creating sacks and TFLs. This year, the sack rate is lower as are the tackles for loss. The TFLs are still above average in the conference.
The Rutgers linebacking corps is one of the best in the conference. Olakunle Fatukasi is the key to the defense, and second in the conference in tackles. He mans the weakside linebacker position, and Tyshon Fogg is the middle linebacker and more of a plugger. The secondary is deep and solid.
The difference between a good defense and this current Rutgers iteration is DL play. Rutgers isn't getting the pressure it did before. The secondary is solid but lacks lock down defenders. As a result they are giving up 8.2 yards per pass attempt this season. Illinois is not great at taking advantage in the air, so they will need to own the line of scrimmage. Schiano stated that along with quarterback, the defensive line is the most important group of the program.
The core defense for Rutgers involves four men across the line, along with DTs who shoot hard across the line of scrimmage trying to disrupt plays. If the offense can control the DTs, the defense is left with major gaps in run fits. Michigan State took full advantage of those gaps. Here is the base defense and how they attack the line of scrimmage.
When the DL is able to get into the OL and control the LOS, Rutgers will shut down opposing running games. Rutgers held Northwestern to 2 ypc. When Illinois goes heavy (and after Bielema made comments about a barge formation, I assume they will), Rutgers will walk down the LBs and run Cover 4 so the safeties support the run game.
Rutgers run fits are pretty solid, which one would expect with their linebacking corps. Teams have had more success going off-tackle, which leads me to believe Illinois will use the overloaded formations and pound the ball off-tackle. The downside of the aggressive DL play is they will jump gaps and allow themselves to get caught on a reach block.
The Spartans were able to reach the DE and it opened up the outside run. Illinois will look to do the same.
The defensive line will also stunt and slant often. The slants allow the DL to penetrate and occupy gaps, but allow them to be sealed. The stunting used by Rutgers utilizes stunting and looping other DL behind the slant.
In this instance, the end is responsible for the opposing A-gap, and loops behind both DTs to get to his spot. The loop will wreak havoc on run games if done successfully as opposing OL are not looking for the loop. The downside is the delayed time it take to get to the hole might leave a gap unfilled.
An example of not getting to the position in time is seen here.
The two tackles are twisting, but the 2nd tackle is late to the party and does not cover the playside gap. The missing player allows horizontal gaps to open and a big play to break.
In passing situations, they will mirror the line stunts to generate a pass rush. The mirrored movements break down the pocket and get pressure on QBs. With Peters back at QB, the pressure into the middle will be amplified by Rutgers.
The last odd thing about the Scarlet Knights defense is the lack of blitzing by the LBs. When they blitzed it often came from Nickels and Safeties.
On the first blitz, it is evident that the DL is slanting away from the blitz. Against Ohio State, Rutgers stacked the line of scrimmage and tried to generate some confusion. Ohio State shredded the look, and I don't think it would be effective against Illinois.
Illinois is going to try manball all game. Rutgers will try and disrupt the Illini rushing attack with slants and penetration. The line that controls the game wins the game. Illinois will need to engage the penetrating DL and ride them out of plays. McCray will need to show patience as he runs, straight downhill plays into the Scarlet Knights hand. Instead, Illinois will need to run off-tackle and one cut runs upfield.
What does it mean?
Robert mentioned this earlier this week, but to reiterate. In SP+, Rutgers has the 93rd best offense and the Illini are the 60th best defense. Illinois has the 97th best offense taking on the 29th best defense. Illinois has been on an upward trajectory while Rutgers is on a downward. The two offenses are both pretty substandard. The Illini have more drive efficiency than Rutgers offensively while Rutgers is more explosive. If Illinois can prevent explosive plays for touchdowns they should be able to control the game and win.
For Illinois to Win:
**RUN THE BALL.**Illinois needs to keep the running game going. The Illini ran for 300 yards against both Charlotte and Penn State. Illinois will need to be mildly proficient in the passing games to prevent Rutgers completely selling out on the run. The Rutgers DL will be disruptive up front, and the Illini OL needs to manage and stymie that. Doing so leads to a win though.
Defensively, Illinois needs to avoid getting lost in the eye candy. Rutgers will motion to generate confusion, but they don't have a downfield passing attack. Keeping the ball in front of them is of primary importance Saturday.
For Rutgers to Win:
Rutgers is in the midst of a 4-game losing streak. The defense has been solid, but the offense has struggled to move the ball against the top defenses. The Rutgers rushing defense showed up last week against Northwestern, and they need that again against the Illini who have decided to run the ball, then run it some more. If Rutgers can prevent the consistent ground game Saturday, the Illini passing game is not there to win the game.
The offense needs to protect the ball, and get back in gear inside the red zone. The offense is averaging 336 yards/game, yet only generating 24 ppg. Penn State struggled to finish drives, Rutgers will have to do so to win.
The spread started with Illinois -2, then moved to the Illini getting points. Illinois is coming off a big win but has shown they really can't score. Rutgers has moved the ball through the air but also can't score. I would hit the under on this game hard. This feels like a field goal game, and I believe Illinois will cover.
YTD Against the Spread: