Rutgers' ability to reach Ramsey will be key to victory
As many coaches say in their inspirational speeches to their teams, “defense wins championships.” But first and foremost, defense wins games, if not just one game. And that is exactly what the Rutgers football team will need to do this weekend if it hopes to get its first Big Ten win of the season.
The Scarlet Knights (1-3, 0-1) will face an Indiana team whose offensive line is reeling from last weekend’s tough loss to then-No. 24 and current No. 21 Michigan State. Though all the blame can’t be put on the line for the loss, it did give up a number of key plays that Rutgers can exploit as long as its front line can bring it on Saturday.
“One of the things we discussed as a team, I really want a big, strong, physical football team at the line of scrimmage,” said head coach Chris Ash earlier this week. “I truly believe games are won up front … Right now we are not playing up the way we need to up front on the defensive line …”
With the game at 7-0 in the first quarter and very much still undecided, the Hoosiers offensive lineman Coy Cronk couldn’t contain the Spartans defensive end Kenny Willekes, who blew past him after a few pushes and got to Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey.
Ramsey was able to get the ball out before he was sacked, but the rushed pass was too high for his receiver and was tipped up and into the hands of a Michigan State cornerback, who brought it back for a touchdown.
Plays like this one are exactly the types of plays the Knights should have for the battle at the line of scrimmage. Indiana gave up four sacks in the game.
“We evaluated our defensive line, we’re not playing well, we’re not rushing the quarterback,” Ash said.
If Rutgers is unable to work its way through at the line of scrimmage, the secondary will need to step up again this weekend. Last weekend was certainly an improvement from a secondary that was suffering during the first three games of the season.
Senior defensive back Blessuan Austin is likely out for the season after re-injuring his ACL during the first game of the season. Sophomore defensive back Tre Avery missed the first three games of the season due to injury, as well.
But Avery made his debut last weekend for the Knights, while fifth-year senior defensive back Isaiah Wharton and junior defensive back Damon Hayes both had interceptions against Buffalo last weekend.
Those were definitely positives to take from the secondary’s play in the game, but there were still too many explosive plays allowed. Rutgers gave up five plays of more than 35 yards and 3 touchdowns in the air.
“In the secondary last Saturday, we made too many mistakes that cost us explosive plays that hurt us in that football game,” Ash said. “We are going to look at what we're doing, how much we're doing and what we're asking players to do to make sure that we can execute the calls that are made.”
Ramsey hasn’t had as successful of a season as Bulls quarterback Tyree Jackson, who came into HighPoint.com Stadium last week with a 12-1 touchdown-interception ratio. The sophomore has thrown 7 touchdowns, but also four interceptions.
Freshman defensive back Avery Young made good use of his time starting in the absence of Austin and Avery, including making nine tackles last game, tied for second on the team.
Rutgers will surely have its hands full this weekend, but the opportunity to secure the upset is certainly there.
“We always have to evaluate who are the guys that give us the best chance to win,” Ash said.