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Rutgers Scarlet Knights preview

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Leonte Carroo will have to adjust to a new QB this season. AP Photo/Nati Harnik

In its Big Ten debut, Rutgers collected three league wins, an auspicious start. Less auspicious were five Big Ten defeats lost by an average of 27.8 points. Year 2 promises to be another mixed bag, with a winnable home date vs. Maryland—but tilts with the West’s top two teams, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Offense

How the Scarlet Knights beat you: Senior WR Leonte Carroo has really only known life with one quarterback: Gary Nova, Rutgers’ four-year starter, was the receiver’s signal-caller for his first three years in Piscataway and for three years in high school before that. This year? Nova is out of eligibility, and Carroo put off the NFL. Even so, coach Kyle Flood’s pro-style attack will continue to emphasize Carroo—new QB and offensive coordinator notwithstanding. Carroo gains yards in huge chunks: He had 19.8 ypc, second most in the FBS among receivers with at least 50 catches, and hauled in 13 passes for 22.2 ypc on third down last year. And with Ben McDaniels, who handled third-down game planning for Rutgers in 2014, taking over full OC duties this fall, that money-down productivity should yield similar returns.

How you beat the Scarlet Knights: Rutgers returns five running backs with at least 63 carries last season. But that depth has less to do with balance than failing to establish a lead back after an injury to RB Paul James (5 rush TDs in four games before an ACL tear). James sat out all of spring practice, and the Knights also have to be concerned about the guys blocking for their crowded backfield: Three new starters will join the O-line in 2015.

Defense

How the Scarlet Knights beat you: Much like the offense, the Rutgers D will rely on a handful of standout playmakers who can single-handedly alter games. We’re looking at you, Kemoko Turay. The sophomore DE terrorized quarterbacks—especially on third down—logging a team-high 7½ sacks (8½ tackles for loss total) without starting a single game. Turay remains a relative newcomer to football (one high school varsity season at Newark’s Barringer High). But he rode his natural athleticism to freshman All-America status last year. Another year in pads and an increased role on the field will only make him a more disruptive force.

How you beat the Scarlet Knights: The front line was simply not prepared to stand up to Big Ten running attacks last year. Five conference opponents steamrolled the undersized Knights (average weight on the D-line in 2014: 254 pounds) for at least 280 yards, while 44.6 percent of all rushes gained five-plus yards (No. 119 in the FBS). And while Rutgers projects to be a bit bigger in 2015, it’ll be younger too: Three new starters will join the front seven, two replacing mainstays up the gut, nose tackle Kenneth Kirksey and middle linebacker Kevin Snyder. Clogging the interior won’t get any easier.