Defensive tackles travel to Dome with clean slate
Defensive tackles Scott Vallone and Justin Francis both remember the last time the Rutgers football team paid a visit to the Carrier Dome.
It was not pretty.
The Scarlet Knights defense surrendered 31 points and 424 total yards in an eventual 18-point loss to the Orange.
Vallone, a junior, does not have many fond memories from the game.
“I don’t remember too many good things the last time we were up there,” Vallone said. “We’ll definitely be ready to go this time — there’s no doubt about that.”
With the swarming defense head coach Greg Schiano put on the field through the Knights’ first three games, it is easy to take Vallone’s word for the defense’s preparedness.
The unit recovered eight forced fumbles — four last week against Ohio — in its first three games of the season and ranks 21st in the nation with five interceptions.
But the numbers most relevant to Vallone and his senior accomplice up front are 12 and 28.
They are the Knights’ respective sack and tackles for a loss totals prior to taking on Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib and his offense.
Their total of 12 sacks is good for 14th nationally and second in the Big East only to Connecticut, which owns 13 sacks to date.
Along with the squad’s reinvigorated knack for causing turnovers, a greater focus on pass pressure is also a key to Schiano’s defensive philosophy.
“We’re just trying to get after the quarterback as much as possible and make tackles behind the line of scrimmage,” Vallone said.
Vallone and Francis each recorded half a sack Saturday, when the front four combined for 2.5 total sacks. The pair now leads the team with the same total.
But Ohio had its fair share of big plays, one of which was a one-handed touchdown grab in the first quarter over junior safety Duron Harmon.
Schiano praised the numerous circus catches Ohio registered, but also acknowledged there were many factors in the plays.
A lack of pressure up front may have been one of them, he said.
“We’ve just got to get out of our stances quicker and get off the ball faster,” Francis said. “Be more precise on our blitzes and be more precise on our pass rush games — just getting the job done basically. It’s not an easy thing to get done. If it was an easy thing to get done, every one would do it.”
With Francis and Vallone alongside each other in the trenches for the third season, the duo remains more than confident in its pass rush abilities.
Francis, who shifted around the line for Schiano in his career, appears especially zoned in.
The Opa-Locka, Fla., native now settles in at tackle and is grateful for how his time at defensive end improved his game.
“It’s been quite a journey, basically a roller coaster ride. I’ve been back and forth, and it’s actually helped me,” said Francis, who owns 13.5 career sacks. “I say this all the time: Dealing with my versatility, it’s definitely helped me with my strength, my pad-level and my pass rush capabilities and my run stop capabilities, as well.”
There is no looking past the duo’s cohesiveness, one that improves both their skillsets, they said.
Good friends off the field and partners in the trenches, Vallone and Francis are eager to make new memories Saturday, when the Knights visit the Carrier Dome.
It all starts with attitude, and the Knights have it, according to Vallone.
“Just a bunch of fighters,” he said of the team. “Guys that aren’t going to lay down, guys that are going to keep fighting through the tough times and keep fighting through the good times. That’s what we’re about.”