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Key matchup for Rutgers-Virginia Tech



Sep 9, 2023; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights running back Kyle Monangai (5) carries the ball as Temple Owls cornerback Elijah Clark (20) pursues during the second half at SHI Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The key matchup for Saturday’s game in my option is the Rutgers rushing attack against the Virginia Tech run defense. The Hokies have a clear weakness and it caters to the strength of the RU offense.

The Scarlet Knights are No. 43 nationally in averaging 188.0 rushing yards through two games. On the flip side, Virginia Tech is No. 117 nationally in allowing 190.0 rushing yards through two games.

It’s hard to argue against the Rutgers running backs being the deepest position group on the roster. Kyle Monangai is just one of four Big Ten backs to rush for over 200 yards through the first two games. Ja’shon Benjamin has been very productive in the first action of his collegiate career. Sam Brown was proving to be a stud last season before his injury and returned against Temple. As did potential big play threat Al Shadee-Salaam, who like Brown punched in a rushing touchdown late in the game. Of course, versatile back Aaron Young, hasn’t even played yet but could return on Saturday against Virginia Tech.

Rutgers wants to control the clock and dominate time of possession. This is no secret and the Scarlet Knights have executed that plan very well so far. They are No. 2 nationally in time of possession with 72:55 minutes, an average of 36:28 per game. The Virginia Tech offense has not been nearly as successful and are ranked No. 104 at just over 27 minutes per contest.

The biggest concern with the Rutgers run game entering the VT game is its offensive line. The Scarlet Knights have used 10-11 lineman in each of the first two games. Starting right tackle Tyler Needham hasn’t been ruled out but seems unlikely to play on Saturday. The line did open more holes against Temple as they were better in run blocking than they were in the season opener.

How Rutgers utilizes its running back rotation will certainly be something to watch for. Through two games, Monangai has received just over half of the carries while Benjamin has gotten about a third. With Brown working into the mix, offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca has an opportunity to make it even harder on defenses.

All three backs have different skill sets and will make the run game of Rutgers harder to predict and defend. They’ve each shown an ability to make plays in the pass game as well. Young has the potential too as well. Salaam could be a home run threat inserted at any time.

I foresee mostly a three back platoon with Brown the x-factor based on how good he looks and load the staff is comfortable with him taking on. Monangai has been running angry and should have that edge again on Saturday. Benjamin has real speed and could be even more effective as a change of pace behind Monangai and Brown.

I also think this is a game that quarterback Gavin Wimsatt could have his best rushing day of the season so far. He’s executed the RPO with handoffs really well but VT is pretty strong on the edge. Designed calls to counter that with an extra blocker, hitting creases up the middle, delayed runs and scrambling when needed are all ways Wimsatt could prosper.

Of course, the offensive line’s performance will play a big part in his potential success on the ground.

With all that being said, I think the rushing attack of Rutgers can wear down Virginia Tech on its way to a much needed 3-0 start.

More preview content to come leading up to Saturday’s 3:30 kickoff at SHI Stadium (BTN).

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  1. Henry Rutgers

    September 15, 2023 at 8:21 am

    I share your optimism although I am concerned that we have not heard any status on some of the walking wounded. For example, Bailey started last game after going out injured the previous game. However, he did not reappear on the field after the first defensive series. Maybe he did and I missed it. And Young, yes we need him back, but he hasn’t been in a game in so long I wonder if this is the opportune time to get him reacclimated when Monangai has shown he’s the type of runner that gets better with each touch. If we’ve learned anything over the decades of playing VT it’s that they will make adjustments to counter our strengths. The oline has done a commendable job. While the RT has not been listed as out for VT yet his play has been solid. From our seats his injury looked like a couple of weeks recovery. When we were that age we healed pretty quickly but I’ll be surprised if he plays.

    We’re packing the rental van this afternoon, red shirts are cleaned and pressed, food prep done and our hopes are high. We have to beat VT tomorrow. Have to.

    • Aaron Breitman

      September 15, 2023 at 8:27 am

      Yes Schiano said if its not a season ending injury, he’s only going to use the game day availability report for updates. Needham is definitely out for a time. As for Bailey, Long and Young, it’s a wait and see. Schiano will definitely be asked after the game. He only met with the media on Monday this week so there will be plenty of questions.

      • Henry Rutgers

        September 15, 2023 at 12:24 pm

        The good news is we have you to rely on to publish the answers in a timely manner. Thank you, Aaron.

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