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Rutgers' defense gets stronger with time

<p>Senior defensive end Julian Pinnix-Odrick said the Knights' defense wasn't tired despite spending over 12 minutes on the field in the first quarter against New Mexico.</p>

Senior defensive end Julian Pinnix-Odrick said the Knights' defense wasn't tired despite spending over 12 minutes on the field in the first quarter against New Mexico.

When Chris Ash left his post as co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State to take the reigns of the Rutgers football program, he brought with him the spread offense from Columbus.

At its core, the spread is a no-huddle, hurry-up offense that is run exclusively out of the shotgun. The goal of the offense is to get lined up as quickly as possible after each play to keep the opposing defense off balance and leave them ample time to make adjustments and substitutions.

As a result of this, if long drives can be put sustained by the offense, the defense becomes worn out from having to keep up with the fast pace.

But, as the Scarlet Knights (2-1) have figured out through three games this season, running the spread offense can also put a strain on a team's own defense as well. The faster the offense runs each play, the less time the defense has on the sidelines to rest and make adjustments. 

Take the first quarter of Rutgers' 37-28 win over New Mexico, for example. 

The Knights had four offensive drives in the opening quarter against the Lobos — A three-and-out on each of their first three drives and a 75-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Chris Laviano to redshirt freshman wide receiver Jawuan Harris on the first play of the fourth drive. 

In total, Rutgers ran 10 plays and possessed the ball for 2:57, meaning its defense was on the field for the other 12:03 while facing 24 plays and allowing 21 points on 203 yards of total offense.

"It's just tough. (New Mexico) is a ball control offense. We're a tempo offense. So sometimes those things don't bode well for defense in terms of time of possession and number of plays," said defensive coordinator Jay Niemann. "We knew it was gonna be a tough battle and it sure was."

While the Knights have faced the same amount of plays per game they did last year — just over 67 — when they ran a slower pro-style offense, Rutgers' defense has been on the field for an average of 32:51 per game, which is over a four minute increase from 2015.

But despite being on the field more, the Knights have actually gotten stronger as games have gone on this season.

In three first quarters, Rutgers' defense has been on the field for 31:57 of a possible 45 minutes, surrendering 59 points and 564 yards of total offense. In the final three quarters of each game, they have played a combined 66:35 of a possible 135 minutes, allowing just 17 points on 443 yards of total offense.

Against New Mexico, the Knights held the Lobos to 7 points on 259 yards over the final three quarters.

"Obviously one touchdown in the final three quarters of the football game, I believe, and that says a lot to our coaches and our players, to be coachable and make the adjustments necessary on the sideline to get settled down," Ash said after Rutgers win over New Mexico.

Across all four quarters, the Knights' defense have posted a couple encouraging numbers they can hang their hats on. Rutgers is holding opponents to a 28 percent conversion rate and have the top red zone defense in the country at 43 percent scoring rate (3 for 7).

Now the task at hand is to clean up the slow starts and put together a full game defensively. Some of that onus falls on the offense to be more consistent in sustaining drives and possessing the ball longer, but the defense isn't worrying about that.

No matter how often they're called upon, the defense makes it their mission to make a play to pick up the offense.

"Not surprisingly, we weren't as worn out as you might think. I think the way we train in the summer, the way we train throughout the year really prepared us to be in shape," said senior defensive end Julian Pinnix-Odrick after the win over New Mexico. "When our numbers are called we need to make the plays when our offense needs us."

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @EricMullin_ and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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