Rutgers (3-1) at SMU (1-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 5, 12 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Ford Stadium (32,000) -- Dallas, Texas. Television: ESPN News. Home Record: Rutgers 3-0, SMU 1-1. Away Record: Rutgers 0-1, SMU 0-2. Neutral Record: Rutgers 0-0, SMU 0-0. Conference Record: Rutgers 0-0, SMU 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: Both teams will be opening up their league schedules when the Rutgers Scarlet Knights visit conference newcomer SMU in an American Athletic Conference matchup at Ford Stadium.
Rutgers rallied for a 28-24 victory over Arkansas two weeks ago and enjoyed a well-earned bye this past weekend. The Scarlet Knights scored 14 unanswered points in the final quarter against the Razorbacks to improve to 3-1 overall. The Scarlet Knights trailed by as many as 17 points in the contest, as the comeback was the largest by the squad since 2004.
SMU's record is the opposite, with the Mustangs sitting at 1-3 after dropping their second straight game over the weekend to TCU. In the three losses the Mustangs have suffered, they have been outscored 131-53. The only win on the ledger was a 31-30 nail-biter against FCS foe Montana State.
This season SMU moved over from Conference USA to the AAC, which was formerly the Big East. The lack of familiarity with the league will mean SMU is facing a number of teams for the first time, including Rutgers.
Rutgers runs a rather traditional style offense that balances the pass (233.2 ypg) and the run (176.2 ypg) well. In all, the scheme has led to relative success on the field as the Scarlet Knights are third in the AAC in scoring (36.2 ppg), totaling a healthy 410 yards of total offense per game.
Paul James has been the workhorse for the offense as he enters play leading the conference in rushing. James has piled up 573 yards on 78 carries this season and has also found his way into the end zone six times. With just 80 yards against Arkansas, James failed to pick up 100 yards rushing for the first time this season.
Gary Nova has shown on more than one occasion this season that he can carry the offense. Against Arkansas he threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the final quarter. On the year, Nova has completed 58.7 percent of his pass attempts for 888 yards and nine scores, while being intercepted three times.
Nova has developed a nice rapport with Leonte Carroo, who has become a home run threat for the Scarlet Knights with five touchdown receptions. Carroo, who caught both touchdowns in the fourth quarter against Arkansas, leads the team in receiving yards (237) on just 11 receptions. Brandon Coleman (13 receptions, 164 yards, two TDs) is still the team's go-to receiver as the leader in receptions, although he has just two in the last two games.
A year ago Rutgers was the best defensive team in the Big East. This year the Scarlet Knights might not be as dominant, but they have still been effective, limiting foes to 21.5 points and 331.5 yards per game. Rutgers also has 11 sacks and 30 tackles for loss. Marcus Thompson (22 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks) has been the primary pass rusher.
In part because they have often been playing from behind, the Mustangs do not have nearly as much balance on offense. SMU is averaging 419.2 yards per game, picking up most of those yards through the air (330.5 ypg).
Garrett Gilbert has been the man under center for the Mustangs. Even though he has thrown for plenty of yards (1,291) and is completing passes at a healthy clip (63 percent), Gilbert has struggled to put points on the board through the air with only four touchdown passes. Gilbert has also thrown five interceptions and been sacked 17 times.
All of Gilbert's passes have gone primarily to three receivers. Jeremy Johnson (34 receptions, 418 yards, TD) has been the leader, while Darius Joseph (39 receptions, 367 yards, two TDs) and Keenan Holman (23 receptions, 254 yards, TD) have gotten plenty of targets as well.
In terms of rushing the ball, Prescott Line (104 yards, TD) and K.C. Nlemchi (101 yards, TD) lead the way, but with meager numbers.
At 1-3 clearly the offense hasn't been the only problem, as the Mustangs are allowing more than 40 points per game. A big part of the problem is the team's inability to force turnovers. SMU is last in the league in takeaways (three). The main strength has lied in creating negative plays as they are second in the league in tackles for loss (31). Kevin Pope has led that charge with a team-high 6.0 tackles for loss as well as team-bests in tackles (36) and sacks (2.5).
Other than playing at home, SMU has very few advantages in this contest. Rutgers has the ability to move the ball effectively both on the ground and through the air and plenty of defense to wreak havoc in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rutgers 27, SMU 17
10/02 10:38:58 ET