The Rutgers defense had another strong performance on Saturday night in the 36-7 win over Temple. The group has allowed just one touchdown in both games this season so far. Two goal line stands, two interceptions, a 15 yard sack and a forced fumble stood out. However, against an accurate quarterback such as EJ Warner for Temple, Rutgers did a tremendous job in pass coverage.
On the night of the blackout game, the unit that refers to themselves as the “dark side” looked like they were swatting passes with light sabers.
The Scarlet Knights had 13 pass breakups as a defense in the 36-7 victory. While the defensive line was extremely disruptive in the win over Northwestern, being disruptive in pass coverage was the strong suit of the defense on Saturday night. It was a true team effort as the defensive line had several deflections up front with nine different players had pass breakups in the game.
Rutgers was led by linebacker Deion Jennings with three. He has become an elite linebacker in pass coverage and showed it once again against Temple. His athleticism, anticipation and physicality has made him a force neutralizing opposing players in the pass game.
In addition, safety Flip Dixon and defensive end Wesley Bailey each had a pair of pass breakups. Defensive linemen Isaiah Iton and Mo Toure each had a deflection, as did four members of the secondary in Max Melton, Thomas Amankwaa, Carnell Davis and Eric Rogers.
Greg Schiano discussed the defensive approach against Warner and why it would be different than their plan against Northwestern.
“You know, what you have with Warner is a guy that gets rid of the ball faster than anybody in America. Last week they got rid of it in 2.1 (seconds) on average. So the thing that we kept talking to our D-Line is do not get frustrated,” explained Schiano. “You’re not going to get to him very much because he just gets rid of it so fast. But what we did talk about doing was getting our hands up and affecting the path of the ball, and we had 13 PVU, some with D-line, some with the linebackers and some with the secondary. That’s what you have to do when a team works a lot of short, quick passing game,”
That balanced effort kept Temple off balance in being able to sustain drives on a consistent basis. They only had three drives of 60 yards or more and only one touchdown.
Even so, the defense first Schiano said that there were still a few plays that signaled more improvement for this unit is needed.
“The thing that was a little discouraging is we tripped once, we got picked once on some big pass plays that generally that doesn’t happen,” Schiano said. “We have to look at that and say, okay, why are we tripping; we did we get picked. Was it a lack of awareness, technique, what it was, or was it just eye control. He’ll (DC Joe Harasymiak) take a look at that and figure it out.”
While every unit for Rutgers needs to improve with a huge swing game next Saturday against Virginia Tech and Michigan looming, the defense has lived up to the hope of most fans through two games. They’ve been consistent in limiting big plays while being physical and disruptive in multiple ways.
“I think they are playing well. I think there’s still a lot more that they can do. I think they are just scratching the surface, but I think they are playing well,” emphasized Schiano. “I think they have a great bond. I think the defensive staff has a great bond. I think the defensive players have a great bond with the staff and with each other. It’s neat to watch. I enjoy being around them.”
If Rutgers is going to become bowl eligible this season, its defense will be the driving force in getting them there. That was the hope before the season and the defense has given fans renewed hope that it’s possible through the first two games.
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