The Opposition: Rutgers’ front seven provides challenge to UH run game

Sophomore running back Ryan Jackson slips a tackle. | Rebekah Stearns/The Daily Cougar

The Rutgers defense will post a challenge for Ryan Jackson and the rest of the UH rushing attack. | Rebekah Stearns/The Daily Cougar

When the Cougars step on the field in New Brunswick, New Jersey, a tough opponent awaits. UH is looking to stay atop the American Athletic Conference standings, but a matchup against battle-tested Rutgers is its toughest conference test so far. Josh Bakan, who covers Rutgers (4-2) for The Daily Targum, discusses the team’s solid defensive front seven, strong special teams and depth of playmakers on offense.

The Daily Cougar: Rutgers’ defense has been up and down this season. The Scarlet Knights kept Heisman candidate Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in check for a lot of the game and held Norfolk scoreless, but struggled with SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert — the Mustangs scored 55 points. What has caused the fluctuation of results?

Josh Bakan: Rutgers has a stellar front seven and an inexperienced secondary. After sending several players to the NFL, Lew Toler breaking his arm, and Ian Thomas deciding to pursue baseball, the secondary doesn’t look good. Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi show flashes of good tackling form, but they are still adjusting to college as true freshmen.

TDC: Quarterback Gary Nova has piloted a high-flying offense that has scored more than 50 points twice, however he has eight interceptions in six games. UH, which leads the nation in turnover differential, thrives on creating extra opportunities for the offense. Is Nova careful enough with the football to keep UH’s opportunistic defense from causing turnovers?

JB: Nova is one of the better quarterbacks in the AAC, but that partly comes from the conference’s overall quality. He is talented, but he doesn’t seem to have his head where one would want a quarterback’s. He tries hard to say the right answer for everything, but he seems nervous in front of a group of reporters. That likely translates to pressure on the field. He is better in late-game situations, but he still overthrows receivers. The offensive line has also been shaky this year with pass protection, which accounts for off-balanced throws that become turnovers.

TDC: Rutgers has a special teams that can score a touchdown and is top 20 in the nation in return yardage. Who are the Scarlet Knights’ playmakers on special teams?

JB: Like Houston, Rutgers has one of the best  special teams in the nation. Most people on the blocking units are starters, and any of them are capable of getting a block. Houston tried to recruit Janarion Grant, and he has already immediately contributed to Rutgers special teams. Teams are already kicking away from him on kickoffs and punts. Quron Pratt also stands back with him on kickoffs, and he has returned one for a touchdown this year.

TDC: Sophomore receiver Leonte Carro has grown into a big threat on the outside to find the endzone. What skill set does he bring to the offense?

JB: Leonte Carroo has everything it takes to become a superstar receiver. He’s fast, he’s strong, his footwork is great, and he’s composed. Nova also threw to him in high school, which may help their connection. Carroo did only special teams his freshman year, so this is his first year at wideout in college. Sometimes he’ll go long periods without catches for no obvious reason (he doesn’t even attract the most defenders. Brandon Coleman does.), but he is confident late in games with all but one of his touchdown catches in the second half or overtime.

TDC: This season, UH has tried to establish the run. But one of the strengths of the Rutgers defense is stopping the run. Does Rutgers have the front seven depth to stop the Cougars’ run attack?

JB: Arkansas was in the same situation. Arkansas outran Rutgers, but their freshman quarterback was too shaky for victory. If Houston’s run game is good enough, it will get some yardage off Rutgers. It might not be a significant amount, but good enough for Houston to win. Then it’s a matter of O’Korn’s abilities on the road.

TDC: Prediction?

JB: Rutgers 34-28. Rutgers has faced teams with high-powered offenses and lackluster defenses. Fresno State’s offense was potent enough to capture the victory late, and SMU’s wasn’t potent enough. I view Houston as better than SMU, but it will be tough for Houston in late situations with a freshman QB on the road, no matter how accomplished he already is.

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  • BYU’s front seven were pretty good as well but this is what I saw from our team: (1) O’Korn has a fast enough release that it can render the pass rush ineffective (2) O’Korn did a pretty good job of escaping pressure and shedding tackles to keep the play alive and our receivers did an awesome job of getting separation after the play broke down to make something happen…this team can play some school yard ball, and (3) If (1) proves true, Rutgers will be forced to make a decision on playing the run D or dropping extra men to help their two freshmen corners thus opening up something for our run game. I think our offense will have too much for the RU defense to handle in this one.
    As far as our Defense goes they have been giving up a ton of yards through the air and Nova will take what he can get with the easy passes but he is also playing like Matt Schaub lately. Turnovers are what our defense truly excels at and they have not disappointed in A SINGLE GAME this season by not providing one or two HUGE plays. I expect our turnover margin to move up 4 notches this weekend.

  • Chris , this is a great write-up……..again. I hope the coaches read it. It was very insightful about the opposition. I really feel that UH can pull a win out of this one, but they have to be on target with every aspect of their game. Here’s hoping that John can get the two previous outings out of his way to begin to excel at the type of play that he is already capable of providing. Eat Em Up Coogs, beat Rutgers!!

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