RU?insists sack numbers will increase
Despite a No. 2 run defense nationally, a Big East-best plus-nine turnover margin and a zero percent fourth-down conversion rate, one glaring omission remains for the Rutgers football team’s front four.
The Scarlet Knights have only nine sacks through five games. They recorded as many in their 2011 season opener against NC Central. But senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone thinks it can happen again.
“We have to be patient,” he said. “There’s going to be a game where it comes and you guys are going to be like, ‘OK, there’s nine, 10 sacks.’ I honestly believe that.”
The Knights are on pace to record 22 sacks, 14 fewer than last year’s total. Ten of those sacks came from players who graduated after last season. But more than only the changeover affects the number.
Head coach Kyle Flood points to opponents’ new game plans for the reduced total.
“I don’t think anything has changed with the way we play defense,” he said, “but I do think the teams we play are conscious of it.”
Ka’Lial Glaud notices the difference firsthand. The senior defensive end estimates he hit Connecticut quarterback Chandler Whitmer three or four times last Saturday, which he said took a toll.
“The quarterbacks are anxious to get the ball out of their hands,” Glaud said. “They’re getting the ball out very fast and it’s causing them to throw the ball inaccurate. … It has to affect them throughout the game.”
Glaud, senior linebacker Khaseem Greene and sophomore safety Lorenzo Waters tie for the team lead with two sacks each. Because of the nature of coordinator Robb Smith’s philosophy, sack numbers could continue to spread between each layer of the defense.
Only a third of the Knights’ sacks come from their defensive line.
“Being the nature of the defense we are, people don’t want to sit in the pocket too long,” Vallone said. “That’s just the way it’s going to be. When they’re catching and they see two guys in their face, they chuck it up and we get four interceptions.”
Discounting Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson’s fourth-quarter performance Sept. 22, opposing quarterbacks completed 23 passes on 47 attempts for 248 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions in four games against Rutgers.
Its defense forced six punts and three turnovers on downs in the process.
“We’re having our effect,” Vallone said. “Those hits in the first and second quarter don’t matter as much. Until he starts throwing three picks in the fourth quarter, then we know we’re doing our job.”
Whether the Knights’ late leads also figure into their fourth-quarter prowess remains to be seen, Flood said. Rutgers has outscored its opponents, 38-3, in the third quarter this season.
“I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not,” Flood said. “I certainly think our coaches have done a good job at halftime. When you have an older, more experienced team, they’re able to learn through the game maybe a little bit better than younger teams are.”
The Knights returned two veterans — senior Marvin Booker and junior Michael Larrow — to the defensive line against UConn. Booker recorded three tackles and one for a loss in his first game since the team’s Sept. 1 season opener.
He could have an effect on the pass rush by spelling Glaud, who Vallone said impressed him most from a preseason of uncertainty.
“He’s really taken to what [defensive line] coach [Jim] Panagos is teaching and what Coach Smith is asking him to do with the scheme,” Vallone said. “I’m really proud of the way he’s matured this year. He’s rushing the passer well, getting hits on the quarterback.”
But Vallone, a 43-game starter, remains the focal point of a renewed rush.
Flood said Vallone excelled in the three-technique — where Vallone lines up on the outside shoulder of a guard — before an injury forced his return to nose tackle.
Still, the transition of junior Jamil Merrell, a 6-foot-4 former end, could allow Smith more pass rush options in the absence of traditional nose tackle Isaac Holmes. If Rutgers expects its sack totals to increase exponentially, it likely starts with more creativity.
It already likes what it sees from a pressure standpoint.
“Every single quarterback we’ve played has felt it,” Glaud said. “They have to remember us because we’re always hitting him. … I just look at Scott and I’m like, ‘Oh, man, he’s going to get it soon.’”
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