Field position plays role in point total
Under defensive coordinator Robb Smith, holding opponents to field goals is not enough. The Rutgers football team’s former special teams coordinator also expects it to block their attempts.
“That’s his relentless attitude,” said senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone yesterday. “He doesn’t want to give up anything. That’s the type of guy he is — never happy — which is perfect for us because we’re … happy with certain things, but we’re never complaisant.”
The Scarlet Knights held Temple to a pair of field goal attempts Saturday, when they surrendered 10 points on scoring drives that began in Rutgers territory.
In their last three games, the Knights faced drives beginning on their side of the 50-yard line five times, giving up points on three of them. Outside of an 80-yard Syracuse touchdown drive, Rutgers’ only points allowed during the stretch came on drives inside its own territory.
“What you see is a defense that’s very stingy,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “You see a defense that’s very determined to make people kick field goals, regardless of the starting position.”
The Knights’ play-calling changes on short fields, which the team calls the fringe area, said senior linebacker Steve Beauharnais. Opposing offenses have fewer chances to stretch the field, opting instead for crossing routes designed to disrupt the middle of the field, he said.
Rutgers’ defense dealt with it during an eight-play stretch against Syracuse, when a pass interference penalty extended an Orange drive inside the 10-yard line. The Knights ultimately held Syracuse scoreless on the drive following a pass breakup from senior safety Duron Harmon.
“It’s harder because that means the coverage has to tighten up,” Beauharnais said. “The fact that your back is getting closer and closer to the goal line is real bothering.”
The Knights have not experienced that feeling often in their last three games.
Connecticut, Syracuse and Temple combined for six red-zone drives against Rutgers, scoring only half the time. During that stretch, the Knights blocked a field goal, forced a fumble that resulted in an 11-yard loss and allowed a field goal from their 2-yard line.
“We are not going to concede touchdowns,” Flood said. “Our defense is not going to do that. They take it very personally.”
Flood expressed confidence in senior punter Justin Doerner, who averaged 44.5 yards per punt against Temple as he improved his season average to 39.6 yards.
Doerner netted only 12 and 15 yards, respectively, on two of his six punts Oct. 6 against Connecticut. He matched wits with Temple’s Brandon McManus, whom Flood pointed to as arguably the Big East’s most consistent punter.
“When you’re in a game, the punters don’t punt against each other per se, but there is a back and forth in the game,” Flood said. “I thought Justin really stepped up to the challenge.”
Doerner entered the season on the heels of an All-Big East Second Team selection from his first season with the Knights. Flood said earlier in the season he was not concerned with Doerner’s play because of his previous season’s résumé.
Half of Doerner’s 18 punts in his last three games have been longer than his season average. The percentage could be greater, since Doerner punted three times inside opponents’ 20-yard line on short fields.
Flood trusts Rutgers’ kickoff coverage this week against Kent State’s Dri Archer, who leads the nation in kickoff returns with 47.7 yards per touch and three touchdowns.
“I think our players will be excited about the challenge this week,” he said, “but this is a tremendous player, there’s no doubt.”
The Knights held UConn’s Nick Williams, whom Flood called arguably the best returner in the Big East, to only eight yards on two punt returns and 24 yards on kickoffs. Williams totaled 128 kick-return yards against Rutgers last year and scored on a 2010 return.
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.
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