Cornerbacks gear up for Penn State's pro-style offense
It’s been a hectic three-week stretch for the Rutgers football team’s defense, to say the least.
The Scarlet Knights went from prepping for Washington State’s Air Raid, run-and-shoot spread offense in Week 1 to Howard’s run-heavy, read option attack this past Saturday. Sporadic results littered with strong starts but eventual assignment breakdowns followed.
The next twist to Rutgers’ defensive game-planning this week?
Enter the Big Ten and Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The 6-foot-4, 234-pound sophomore is already being touted as a legitimate NFL prospect, and with good reason.
Hackenberg leads the Big Ten and ranks fourth nationally with 386.5 passing yards per game, setting a single-game school record with 454 yards against Central Florida in Week 1.
Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles serve as eerie reminders of future NFL signal-callers Rutgers struggled to contain last season, but the Knights insist they have the personnel in place to be successful.
“I feel like we have the experience now,” said sophomore cornerback Anthony Cioffi, one of three defensive backs who had to learn on the fly as true freshmen last season. “The Washington State quarterback [Connor Halliday] had a good game on us, but I feel that in the beginning we were really shutting things down, and toward the end things came down to mental errors, but I feel we have everything set in place. We’ll be alright.”
It can’t hurt that Penn State operates a pro-style offense, which Rutgers’ defense is most used to practicing against given the team’s own offensive unit. And the Nittany Lions’ offensive line, breaking in four new starters this season, has proven susceptible to effective pass rushes.
Still, Rutgers’ improvements in the secondary begin with fundamentals.
“Tackling has been a huge emphasis,” said sophomore cornerback Nadir Barnwell. “That’s one our main things is just making open-field tackles, keeping the ball in front and stopping the run. We’ve definitely got to get better at that. We feel like we’ve been slacking in that area, so we’ve got to improve there.”
Head coach Kyle Flood announced yesterday sophomore cornerback Justin Goodwin, listed as questionable with an upper body injury, will play on offense this week if he’s healthy enough to suit up.
Goodwin switched from running back to cornerback in training camp to aid Rutgers’ depth in the secondary. But freshman corner Dre Boggs, upgraded this week to probable with a lower body injury, could be back to make his defensive debut against the Nittany Lions.
Flood wouldn’t commit to Goodwin’s switch back to running back being permanent.
“I felt that if he was going to be able to help us this week, on a short week, it was going to be on offense,” Flood said. “ ... I think he’s got a proven track record of being an excellent ball carrier, catches the ball well out of the backfield, has been a good protector in the short amount of time he’s been here. I think he’s a complete player.”
At the end of his post-practice news conference yesterday, Flood got into a heated exchange with a CBS New York reporter.
Pressed on the aftermath of Ray Rice’s dismissal from the Baltimore Ravens, Flood made clear everything he has to say on the matter was in his Monday statement.
“I don’t have any comment on what the NFL has done,” Flood said. “And I haven’t had any communication with Ray either.”
Since Rutgers announced Monday that Rice would no longer be part of High Point Solutions Stadium’s “Knights in the NFL” video, speculation has swirled regarding Rice’s pictures hanging around the facilities.
A Rutgers Athletics spokesman issued a statement on the matter yesterday.
“We are in the process of changing all of the art around our program,” the statement read.
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