Rutgers Football 2019 Editors Predictions - Week Two
Last week, sports editors Jackson Thompson and Jake Schmied went 3 for 6 on predictions against UMass. An opponent like the Minutemen could lead one to predict a lot of things to in favor of the Rutgers football team, but things get a little harsher with an opponent like No. 20 Iowa.
Can the Scarlet Knights (1-0) pull off a stunning road upset? Here’s what the editors say:
Sophomore Running Back Isaih Pacheco Gets Back Into the End Zone at Least Once
Pacheco was the beneficiary of a home crowd and opposing sub-par defense in week one, but playing on the road against a legitimate conference opponent that only gave up 59 total rushing yards to Miami OH. His power should lead to enough broken tackles to rack up at least one touchdown Saturday.
The Offensive Line Gives up More Than One Sack
After a nearly flawless performance in week one, the Rutgers offensive line will take that momentum on the road and battle a hostile Hawkeyes crowd. Redshirt freshman left tackle Raiqwon O’Neal will line up against the Iowa's A.J. Epenesa, an NFL prospect and last season’s Big Ten sack leader with 10. He didn't have any sacks in week one, which may lead to even more motivation on his end to get after senior quarterback McLane Carter.
Offensive line coach Peter Rossomando knew the entire UMass staff from the season prior, and he said was able to obtain some information on certain personnel in the Minutemen front seven. He'll have no such intel for Iowa.
“I would say we’re a long ways away from being perfect, I can tell you that right now, but we’re working towards it and I wouldn’t want to work with a better group than this one," Rossomando said.
Iowa’s Ranking Is Bumped Down in Next Week’s Polls
This prediction is essentially an implication that the Knights will keep it close enough to make the Hawkeyes look bad. The three teams behind Iowa in the rankings are Syracuse, Washington State and Stanford.
Rutgers is a -20.5 point underdog on Saturday, which puts it in the middle of the road between the Cougars, which are favored by 31 points over Northern Colorado, Syracuse is currently a 1-point underdog to Maryland and Stanford is a -1.5-point underdog to USC.
Two of these teams are underdogs to unranked teams, and one is an overwhelming favorite over a conference rival. A shakeup in the rankings could see any one of these three teams overtake Iowa if the Knights can keep it close in the fourth quarter, or perhaps even pull off an upset. This is will be the first game Rutgers ever plays at Kinnick Stadium, and one of potential significance for head coach Chris Ash, who grew up a Hawkeye fan only 96 miles away from Iowa City.
The Knights Defensive Line Sacks Nate Stanley Once
Rutgers’ defense comes into Iowa City facing a somewhat battered Iowa offensive line. The Hawkeyes' Alaric Jackson left his win over the RedHawks in the first quarter with a sprained knee. Iowa's Tristan Wirfs will be entrusted with protecting Stanley’s blindside against the Knights.
Sophomore defensive end Mike Tverdov will line up across from Wirfs in the trenches. As one of the most experienced linemen, he sat atop the team’s sack list with four last season. Tverdov hasn’t broken through an opposing offensive line for a sack in four games. But, without Jackson blocking Stanley’s blindside, he can pressure the gap.
Rutgers Secondary Will Allow 100-plus Yards to Iowa’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette
In a perfect world, Smith-Marsette would have entered Ash’s second recruiting class in 2017. But, the Newark, New Jersey, native decommitted from the Knights only a week prior to National Signing Day, citing the allure of the Hawkeyes' atmosphere.
Two years later, he'll play against Rutgers, this time on his home turf at the ever hostile Kinnick Stadium. Smith-Marsette has taken the Big Ten by storm as a wideout and as a kick returner. Last season, the junior averaged 29.5 yards per kickoff, leading the Big Ten, with his longest of the season at 60 yards.
Smith-Marsette has torn up secondaries left and right, averaging almost 8 yards per reception last season. Although he finished with 35 yards against a Miami OH defense, he still managed to find the end zone for 6 points.
While the Knights’ cornerbacks held UMass’ wideouts to 121 yards, it was against a FBS lower-tiered school that finished 2018 with eight losses. Smith-Marsette will likely be guarded by sophomore cornerback Avery Young, who had his first interception against the Minutemen.
This matchup alone could prove to be in Smith-Marsette’s favor. His quick feet coupled with his crisp route running can create open space down the field.
Junior Running Back Raheem Blackshear Will Be Held Below 40 Receiving Yards
Blackshear led all receivers in yards last season and hasn’t missed a beat as the “scat back” in Rutgers’ lineup. He caught nine passes for 126 yards against the Minutemen, leading all wideouts in that game.
But, against Big Ten teams last season, he struggled in his hybrid role. On the road at Maryland and Michigan State, Blackshear finished with 4 and 29 yards, respectively. Keep in mind that Penn State ranked in the top 20 last season for passing defense.
The Hawkeyes’ Epenesa is one of the Big Ten’s top pass rushers, totaling 16.5 tackles for a loss last season. Blackshear will most likely be active as a running back along with Pacheco.
Blackshear, who is fresh off a career-high 165 all-purpose yard game against UMass, will line up against an Iowa defense that allowed 186 yards to RedHawks receivers. This will be the first real test for Blackshear this season, facing a Big Ten opponent on the road.