Liberty quarterback presents challenge for Rutgers' pass rush

While the Rutgers football team has used three different quarterbacks this season — and could opt for a fourth depending on this week's practice reps — its upcoming opponent has consistently brought out one of the nation's underrated passers, Liberty's Stephen Calvert, along with the rest of the offense.

This season as a senior, Calvert cemented his legacy as the top quarterback to play for the Lynchburg, Virginia, located school. The Flames' (5-2) fifth straight win, a 59-44 win over Maine last Saturday, Calvert's 351 passing yards brought him to 10,282 career passing yards, earning him the top passer spot in that category.

Calvert also passed for five touchdowns to five different wide receivers against the Black Bears. Calvert was 23 for 25 with no interceptions while being sacked only once in last weekend's FBS-FCS contest. 

The Scarlet Knights (1-6, 0-5) will be in for a test with Calvert calling out signals this Saturday after allowing 245 passing yards to No. 20 Minnesota's Tanner Morgan, who threw for two touchdowns. 

Rutgers' pass rush was not able to win the trenches battle against the Golden Gophers' (7-0, 4-0) offensive line, failing to sack Morgan.

The Knights have had difficulty pressuring opposing offensive lines to exploit the quarterback in the pocket. They have allowed an average of 241.6 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks this season in defensive coordinator Andy Buh's first-year stint since he was at the same post in Maryland. 

Through seven games, one by week, including another one coming up after Rutgers faces Illinois on Nov. 2, the team has allowed opposing quarterbacks more yards this season than last year. 

In 2018, when Jay Niemann, now the assistant defensive line coach at Iowa, commanded the defense, they allowed 186.7 yards per game at the end of the season. 

Each season since 2016, the Knights have welcomed two non-Power 5 schools to Piscataway. They have only lost twice — Buffalo in 2018 and Eastern Michigan in 2017 — in that span to teams outside of the Power 5 conferences.

Rutgers will be an underdog against Liberty on Saturday, opening as 4-point underdogs since this past Sunday by Las Vegas bettors. The betting lines open on Sundays and fluctuate over the week before establishing itself prior to kickoff on Saturday.

One of Calvert's most notable quarterback qualities is his ability to spread the wealth to different options. Of his 15 touchdowns this season, five have gone to teammate Antonio Gandy-Golden, who averages approximately 125 yards per game as a deep threat. Against Maine, he had nine catches for 149 receiving yards.

Gandy-Golden poses a tough challenge for the Knights' secondary, especially. His quick feet have garnered him an average of 20.4 yards per catch, essentially two first downs, with his longest catch coming on a 73-yarder from Calvert.

DJ Stubbs and Kevin Shaa have caught two touchdowns apiece from Calvert, behind Gandy-Golden, with the former totaling 20 receptions while the latter has 19. Stubbs has 259 total receiving yards on the season, good for second on the team's list.

Flames Frankie Hickson, Noah Frith, Troy Henderson, Zack Foutz, Jerome Jackson and Michael Bollinger round out the touchdown list with one apiece. Hickson and Foutz have been consistent starters.

"We can't treat it any different than any other game, regardless of the opponent," said interim head coach Nunzio Campanile. "I think we have to go out and play really well, and I've been saying this for a couple weeks, but we really have to take care of our own business and make sure our house is in order."

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