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Inside the Enemy on Rutgers with The Scarlet Faithful's Aaron Breitman

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Photo Credit: Harley Taylor

Virginia Tech is looking to bounce back from their loss to Purdue against a Rutgers team that is looking to start 3-0. The Hokies know that this is a swing game that likely will be critical for determining whether they reach a bowl game or not this season with the same likely being true for Rutgers.

So before this game, we reached out to Aaron Breitman of The Scarlet Faithful to share his insights on Rutgers with you, our loyal readers. Here's what he had to say about the Scarlet Knights.

Q: Why has Rutgers been able to dominate their first 2 opponents?

Greg Schiano wants to control the game by running the ball, managing the clock with time of possession, and letting the defense and special teams win the game. Limiting turnovers is a big part of that and the “the ball” is a mantra preached within the program.

Through two games, they’re second nationally in time of possession, they’ve committed just 1 offensive turnover (+ 1 special teams), been effective with the run game, efficient on third and fourth down conversions (19 of 36, 52.7%) and the defense is getting contributions from many players. If Rutgers can keep playing that way, they can wear certain teams down at the end of games similarly to what they did against Temple. You will also see Rutgers have no problem running the play clock under 10 or even five seconds throughout the game.

Q: What has made Rutgers so good at stopping the run through 2 games?

The defense is swarming and playing with a lot of energy. The defensive line is deeper than Rutgers has had since the height of Schiano’s first tenure. The linebackers have been good as well in preventing big gains on the ground. Of course, Rutgers hasn’t played a team yet that can really run the football. I’ve said this week, we know that this team has improved from last year, but we don’t know if they’re actually good yet. This week against Virginia Tech is a big test and a chance to answer those questions a little bit more.

Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of Gavin Wimsatt?

Gavin has a ton of talent including a big arm. But the key in his development from last season has been his full commitment to getting better and buying into OC Kirk Ciarrocca’s mentorship. That’s not to say he wasn’t before, but Ciarrocca has come in and made a major impact on Wimsatt, He is a true dual-threat quarterback who can make plays with his legs. He’s handled the doubts and criticism well, ascending to a true leader on the team.

As for weaknesses, the overwhelming one is accuracy. He had one of the least accurate seasons in college football history last year with a 44% completion rate. Now he was hurt for a period, came back after the OC who recruited him had been fired, and was running a new system. His development phase before this offseason did him no favors.

Wimsatt has improved dramatically within ten yards, completing over 80% of passes this season. He still struggles from 10+ yards but the ones he has connected on resulted in big plays. This includes a 61 yard reception to JaQuae Jackson last week with the ball deep in Rutgers territory.

His decision-making has gotten better and he’s throwing the ball away more than ever in a good way. But he’s still prone to a couple bad throws/decisions a game so it’s an area opponents could take advantage of.

Q: What are the strengths of this Rutgers team?

Greg Schiano’s a defensive coach and this program will always be at worse competent on that side of the ball. However, he’s had a few years to build the defense and this is the deepest unit he’s had. Defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak came to Rutgers before last season from Minnesota and has made a positive impact as well. The defense has playmakers in all three phases. They key for them to take the next step is being more disruptive and forcing turnovers. So far this season, they’ve made that jump and it just needs to continue.

As I mentioned previously, Rutgers has only turned it over twice and has dominated with time of possession. The offense will take certain risks but to a point. Establishing a lead early has been key to wearing teams down and playing the way they want to. They have a +2 turnover margin that is close to being greater as the defense has forced four fumbles without recovering one while having a fifth incorrectly called a dead ball.

I do think the coaching staff as a whole is as good as Rutgers has had in some time. Schiano overhauled the offense and brought in three extremely experienced coaches who he had previous relationships with.

In Kirk Ciarrocca as OC, Dave Brock as wide receivers coach and Pat Flaherty as offensive line coach, Rutgers has three established and accomplished veterans. The impact has been obvious with the offense, as they operate in a professional manner, are prepared and are able to take advantage of defensive mistakes. They caught Temple with too many men on the field last week, which as a Rutgers fan was a sign things are different as too many times before, it would have gone the other way around.

Q: What are the weaknesses of this Rutgers team?

Offensive line is the clear weakness. They’ve rotated 10-11 guys in the first two games. Granted the opener was played in close to 90 degree heat, but the second game they did the same.

Starting right tackle Tyler Needham got hurt last week and will be out. They had shifted the starting right tackle Hollin Pierce and starting right guard Curtis Dunlap to the left side for this season. The starting center Ireland Brown lost his job to the backup Gus Zilinskas. There are a ton of questions still on how quickly they can gel and when the rotation will tighten up. They’ve been solid in pass protection though and even though the run blocking hasn’t been great, they’ve come through in key moments. Can that continue against better teams remains to be seen.

The wide receivers came into the season mostly unproven at the FBS and Big Ten level. Division II All-American JaQuae Jackson had a breakout game against Temple and could ascend to the No. 1 spot. Chris Long has shown signs but struggles to stay healthy and missed last game. True freshman Ian Strong had a catch of the season type play with a touchdown in the corner of the end zone against Northwestern, but then received no targets last week. It’s a group that has potential but isn’t reliable yet.

Rutgers hasn’t established a kick and punt returner yet. They hope it can be Rashad Rochelle, but he struggled a bit in the preseason and then fumbled a punt in the opener. They’re sticking with him and hopefully he can come up with a few solid returns soon, but the jury is still out.

Q: Who are potential x-factors for Rutgers?

I wouldn’t normally say running back Sam Brown but he just returned last week after a season ending foot injury last October. He emerged as the No. 1 back as a true freshman last season. The former four-star recruit has a combination of speed and size that makes him very hard to tackle. He had a series at the end of the Temple game to get reps. How much he plays against Virginia Tech remains to be seen, but I could see him getting double digit touches and has the potential to make a big impact.

Ian Strong is the receiver who has big play ability but wasn’t a factor last week at all. He has the potential though to change the game.

Wesley Bailey starts off the edge for the defense and played last week despite battling an injury. He has tremendous closing speed and while he can be quiet at times, Bailey has made some big plays in his career and feels due a moment on Saturday.

Jai Patel & Flynn Appleby are the new kicker and punter for Rutgers. Both have done well so far. Patel is 4 of 5 from field goal range including a 51 yarder last week. Appleby is replacing reigning Ray Guy Award winner Adam Korsak and has been very solid so far. Rutgers needs both to remain consistent and avoid big mistakes.

Q: What's your prediction for this game and why?

I think this is going to be a hard fought game and close. I have a hunch this one could be different for Rutgers and Virginia Tech could jump out to an early lead. Brent Pry knows Kirk Ciarrocca and Greg Schiano well which I think will have his team well prepared. I think especially if Kyron Drones starts, he could provide a boost and it could take a bit for the Rutgers defense to adjust. However, I think the power run game of Rutgers is their strength and has been an issue for the Hokies' defense this season. Ultimately, I think RU wears down VT and scores a fourth quarter touchdown to put the game away.

Prediction: Rutgers 27, Virginia Tech 16

We once again thank Aaron for joining us to dive inside Rutgers ahead of Saturday's matchup between the Hokies and Scarlet Knights. You can check out our Q&A with The Scarlet Faithful here and with their full website here.

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