Takeaways satisfy ‘D’ despite pass total
Khaseem Greene is not shy in his defense of the Rutgers football team’s linebacker corps, which he says is the best in the nation. But after the defense surrendered more than 350 yards passing Saturday for the second time this season, he realizes its opponent has its own argument to make.
“We’ll start shutting people’s passing games down, but at the same time I think we’re doing a good enough job,” the senior linebacker said yesterday. “I can’t be naive — those guys are on scholarship, too.”
But the Scarlet Knights’ growing takeaway total could soften the blow of another modest outing in pass defense. The Knights forced six turnovers and in the two games they allowed a combined 775 pass yards — Sept. 22 at Arkansas and Saturday against Syracuse — four came in the second halves.
But where Rutgers forced takeaways also figures into the equation.
Four of the six turnovers between Arkansas and Syracuse gave the Knights position on the scoring side of the field. Another occurred in Rutgers’ end zone.
“Say if we get the takeaway at the 50, now the offense has a short field to deal with,” said senior linebacker Steve Beauharnais. “It does obviously soften [the pass yards allowed] because right now we have an offense that’s real good at taking care of the ball.”
Beauharnais, who tied a season high with seven tackles against the Orange, is the only Knights starting linebacker without a forced turnover. Besides making defensive calls at the line of scrimmages, Beauharnais doubles as an edge rusher on passing downs.
Greene said Beauharnais is due for a takeaway, but head coach Kyle Flood likely cares little about the source.
The sign of a good pass defense, Flood said, is the number of turnovers it forces.
“I have yet to see the statistics that says, ‘If you throw for this many yards, you win the game,’” Flood said. “So to me, there are certain statistics that over time win football games, [and] that has not been one of them. But I know turnovers are.”
Rutgers is tied for seventh nationally in turnovers forced, compensating for its No. 87 pass defense. But Greene has a template for how its linebackers can affect the pass game.
“Look at Arkansas. Tyler Wilson threw for what, 420 [yards]?” said Greene, who yesterday earned Big East Defensive Player of the Week honors. “We forced so many turnovers, and big-time turnovers when we needed them, too. It definitely throws off the morale of the quarterback.”
Flood faces Temple’s Steve Addazio on Saturday for the first time since both became head coaches, but their relationship extends beyond their first Big East matchup.
Flood met Addazio, a Connecticut native, in the late 1990s, when Flood and another Hofstra assistant, Dan Quinn, exchanged ideas with Syracuse’s coaching staff.
Addazio worked under Paul Pasqualoni for the Orange, now head coach at Connecticut.
“I always remember that visit up there,” Flood said, “and I think as you talk to people who coached offensive line — certainly in the Northeast — Steve was one of the truly fine teachers of offensive line, and everybody envied how hard and how physical his players played.”
Flood served as an offensive line coach for 17 seasons, including seven in Piscataway.
Temple, meanwhile, ranks second in the conference in rushing with 176.8 yards per game under Addazio, who won two national championships as an assistant at Florida.
“You see pieces of that [Florida] offense,” Flood said. “You see that in their offense at Temple and you see how they are progressing as the year goes on.”
After converting two extra points and a 25-yard field goal against Syracuse, kicker Nick Borgese remains in line to play at Temple as of yesterday.
Borgese, a redshirt freshman, replaced opening-day starter Kyle Federico after the freshman suffered a lower leg injury Oct. 6 against Connecticut.
“There's a reason why Kyle Federico was the starting kicker at the beginning of the year,” Flood said. “But if he's not 100 percent, we have a lot of confidence in Nick that he can do the job for us like he did on Saturday.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.
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