As Cincinnati’s extremely important game against Rutgers creeps ever closer, we continue our prep work for the Scarlet Knights by taking some time to talk to someone who follows the program closely, Jerry Sanchez (@RUFANJERRY). He’s a must-follow and tracks Rutgers with a passion, writing for NJ.com, and also hosts a podcast every week during football season.
On Tuesday I hopped on with him to chat about the Bearcats. You can listen to my segment via the player below. I come in at around the 25 minute mark:
Also, Jerry did me the favor of answering some questions about the Scarlet Knights. Since I don’t have fancy schmancy podcast technology at my disposal like he does, we did it old school.
Cincy on the Prowl: So Rutgers is heading to the Big Ten, huh? That must be nice.
RUFANJERRY: Ten years ago in 2003 when Rutgers was still getting beaten handily by the likes of Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Miami and Pittsburgh the furthest thing from anyone’s mind would have been membership in the Big Ten. The bottom line is while the program has not secured the ever elusive BCS bowl trip – and may never – it is inching towards its eighth bowl birth in nine seasons. Just enough success combined with location put Rutgers in a good place when the conference chips fell as they did.
Reality has not set in yet, as the American Athletic Conference schedule this season leaves a lot to be desired. However, starting next season Rutgers will be hosting Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin with road trips to Nebraska and Ohio State. It doesn’t get better than that for a college football fan.
Cincy on the Prowl: What’s your take on Kyle Flood in his second year as the Scarlet Knights head coach?
RUFANJERRY: Coach Flood is at a crossroads. After losing a ton of talent to Graduation (and the NFL) Rutgers was not a favorite to win the conference. But with an experienced junior QB in Gary Nova the possibility was still there. Riding the momentum of moving into the Big Ten the Scarlet Knights were also expected to do well on the recruiting trails. For the first five games of the season that appeared to be the case as the Scarlet Knights were 4-1 with their only loss to a ranked Fresno State on the road. Rutgers was firmly in third place behind Big Ten powers Ohio State and Michigan in 2014 recruiting. Then the wheels started to get loose. A dismal performance by Nova against Louisville was followed by a blow out loss on homecoming to Houston and a way-too-tight last second win over a one-win Temple team in which the team was sloppy and at times unwatchable. This past week Flood endured two high profile de-commitments from 4-star New Jersey players. If Flood – who is already inexperienced as a game coach – can’t secure a solid recruiting class heading into the Big Ten then a 8-5 or 9-4 season may not be as tolerable either. Flood will have to finish strong on the field in these last four weeks, starting this week as well as close out a solid recruiting class to hold off the coaching change speculation.
Cincy on the Prowl: On the surface a 5-3 season looks pretty solid. But Rutgers has lost 2 of the last 3 games and squeaked by Temple last week. What are your thoughts on the Scarlet Knights’ season so far?
RUFANJERRY: The Rutgers defense has had a lot more difficulties than expected. It was known the secondary would be green, but injuries to 5th year senior transfer Lewis Toler and the unexpected transfer of CB Ian Thomas has left the unit depleted with two true freshmen starting another contributing (and ailing as well) and a wide-receiver who was just converted last week getting significant minutes. Playing against passing offenses has been an adventure and there is no telling if it will change as the season closes out.
Rutgers has relied on solid, if not sometimes downright dominant defensive play coupled with timely blocked punts and field goals for years. This was to be the year the offense was to pick up the slack. While it looked like that early on, it has not been the case the last three games. The offense may get a boost from the return of RB Paul James, who was leading the nation in rushing after three games earlier in the year. Nevertheless it has been the inconsistent play of Quarterback Gary Nova that has been disappointing. While his top receiver going into the season, Brandon Coleman, has been hobbled all season long he has plenty of targets particularly Sophomore WR Leonte Caroo. Nova did perform admirably last game after a tumultuous week in which he was benched after throwing his seventh interception in two games. He will need to do even more this week if the Scarlet Knights are to pull out a win over the Bearcats on Saturday.
Cincy on the Prowl:What has happened to the normally dominating Rutgers defense?
RUFANJERRY: As touched upon in the previous question, the Rutgers secondary is young, inexperienced and depleted by injury and circumstances. Even more troubling has been the lack of a pass rush. If there is no pass rush from the end position Rutgers will to rely on blitzes and stunts to bring pressure which can leave their defensive backs in unfavorable positions. Inexperienced players in the secondary and the lack of pass rush have led to few turnovers and pressure situations for opposing quarterbacks.
Cincy on the Prowl: By the numbers Gary Nova looks to be having a decent season but seems to make some untimely mistakes. What is your evaluation of him this year?
RUFANJERRY: Nova has been inconsistent and inaccurate at times. He also has come up with big throws as he did with the go ahead touchdown against Temple and has stretches of good play such as his play against Fresno State, SMU and the fourth quarter against Arkansas. Last game against Temple he did introduce a phase of his game that has been none existent for the better part of three seasons. Nova checked down to his receivers completing nine passes to his running backs as well as tucking the ball and running at times. This game will tell if his benching may have had a maturing effect and he has learned to be careful with the ball rather than forcing passes into traffic.
Cincy on the Prowl: Cincy and Rutgers have played some odd ones recently, from 107-point shootouts to 10-3 snoozers. How do you think the game on Saturday plays out?
RUFANJERRY: This is an extremely interesting match-up. Tommy Tuberville wanted to run the ball a lot more than he has. But with spread personnel he has settled on bringing the Bearcats back to a pass first offense. With Rutgers difficulties defending the pass there is no doubt Cincinnati will look to exploit that weakness. Rutgers on the other hand will want to lean on RB Paul James to help control clock, but will also want to see if Nova can improve on last game’s finish. It sounds like a cop-out but you may either see a shootout or a 17-13 snoozer. My guess is a little of both, with a low-scoring first half and high scoring second half as both teams – especially the Bearcats who are still in the BCS hunt – show more urgency.