Offensive line focuses on pad level, techniques for Navy defensive front
The Rutgers football team’s offensive line has such high expectations for itself that currently allowing nearly half as many sacks per game as last season isn’t good enough.
The unit has given up five sacks in three games — on pace for vast improvement from the 35 it permitted all last season.
But sophomore right guard Chris Muller isn’t impressed.
“That’s way too high,” he said. “We want to [allow] less than a sack a game. We don’t want to let [senior quarterback] Gary [Nova] get hit, and five sacks are way too much.”
Junior left tackle Keith Lumpkin even went as far as to say the current sack total is “very bad.”
Such is life for an offensive front that returned all five starters from last season, with Muller saying Sept. 1 that the Scarlet Knights want to dominate no matter who they face.
But that was hardly the case Saturday night against Penn State.
Rutgers had only three first downs in the second half, struggling to get into any kind of offensive rhythm to pull away down the stretch.
The Knights had an especially difficult time containing defensive tackle Anthony Zettel, Athlon Sports’ Big Ten Player of the Week. Zettel pounded his way through the trenches for three tackles-for-loss, including a critical sack on Rutgers’ final drive.
Despite giving high praise to the Nittany Lions’ defensive front, Lumpkin said the Knights deviated from their fundamentals and keeping a low base in blocking.
“We played very high [pad level] that game,” Lumpkin said. “We kind of side-tracked from what we’ve been working on, so that’s our focus for this week — play low — because Navy does a great job of staying low, and they’re fundamentally sound. We have to get back to what we’ve been working on the whole summer.”
Perhaps most frustrating, Muller said, was that film showed the Knights were often only one block away from extending crucial plays against Penn State. With such high talent and potential up front, the offensive line felt it needed to compete at a higher level.
Now going against a Navy defense that features eight upperclassman starters, consistently keeping a low pad level will be imperative.
“They’re one of the most disciplined schools in the country,” Muller said. “They have one of the lowest penalties per game and they’re just a very tough, nitty-gritty football team. They play to the end of the whistle.”
Rutgers also feels a pressing need to establish a more effective ground attack this week. Since running for 215 yards in the opener at Washington State, the Knights have rushed for just 211 yards over the last two games.
Navy, while insistent on running the ball, is averaging 403 yards per game in that department. Rutgers’ run defense ranks 30th in the nation, so something will have to give.
“Whoever runs the ball controls the game,” Muller said. “That’s how you show tough football teams — being able to run the ball and stop the run, so we have to make sure that we can prove that we can do that, and if we run the ball we’ll be able to control the clock and control the game.”
Sophomore Myles Nash, suspended for the season opener for violation of team policy, is making progress as one of Rutgers’ prominent second-team linebackers, said head coach Kyle Flood.
“I’m really seeing a jump in his understanding of the defense,” Flood said. “Now this week’s a different challenge, because we’re playing a different version of our defense, but even this week I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen so far.”
Through three games, Rutgers has evenly split punting duties between juniors Joey Roth and Tim Gleeson. Both are averaging 37.2 yards per punt.
Flood said the coaching staff will make a decision later in the week on the possibility of establishing one clear punter.
“Right now I’m leaning toward Timmy starting the game at punter,” Flood said.
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