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WSU vs. Rutgers football: Previewing the Scarlet Knights

The Cougs head to New Jersey. That's a place next to New York where Bruce Springsteen is from, in case you didn't know.

Good Rutgers player.
Good Rutgers player.
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Rutgers football team is a football team that played an FCS football team to open the season. So, in a way, one could say the Rutgers football team is just like the Washington State football team.

However, the Rutgers football team (or, the "Scarlet Knights) fared much better against its FCS opponent than the WSU football team, winning 63-13 over Norfolk State. If you say Norfolk State real fast it sounds like there is a swear word in there. That apparently does not make for good football, apparently (and sadly).

While WSU was busy not padding stats against an overmatched opponent like everyone thought they would be, Rutgers was racking up 291 yards rushing on 47 carries against the Norfolkers.

It wasn't just one Scarlet Knight tallying the majority of the yards. No, there were three different running backs with 10 carries or more. In fact, on Rutgers's depth chart there are four players listed as ‘or' at the top.

Sophomore Josh Hicks is the top returning rusher available in this game and led the way last weekend with 18 carries for 118. He needed just 69 (nice) tries for 440 yards last season. Rutgers runs a whole lot, so expect to see Paul James (15 for 82 against Norfolk) and Robert Martin (10 for 69 - nice) with frequent appearances as well.

Quarterback Chris Laviano won the starting job against WSU because he was almost perfect against the Norfolkers. Laviano threw just four passes, but three of them connected for touchdowns. I'm no mathematician, but I'd say that is better than his freshman numbers of 10 for 28, 107 yards, no touchdowns and one pick.

Leonte Carroo, who burned WSU on the first play from scrimmage in Seattle, unfortunately did not do the Cougs a favor by leaving for the NFL after a 55-catch, 1,086-yard, 10-touchdown season. Carroo refused to catch the ball without scoring on the Norfolkers, amassing 129 yards and three touchdowns on his three receptions.

So, WSU will be doing pretty well if Carroo hauls a pass in and is stopped short of the endzone. If this happens, please cheer appropriately.

But the pass won't be the Cougs' No. 1 concern. Rutgers ran the ball more than 55 percent last season, and looks poised to do the same this year. That doesn't bode well for a Cougar defense that allowed 233 yards on 48 carries to a Portland State team with smaller, slower athletes than they will see on Saturday in New Jersey.

Defensive Names to Watch

Rutgers returns its leading tackle-maker and leading sack-getter from 2014. So if you are wondering why WSU is getting tackled so much on Saturday, that is probably why.

Steve Longa tallied 102 total tackles for the Scarlet Knights last year, while defensive lineman Kemoko Turay sacked the quarterback 7.5 times. Quentin Gause was in the opponent's backfield the most among his linebacking friends, putting up 7.0 tackles for loss.

The Scarlet Knights didn't intercept the ball much a year ago, but junior Anthony Cioffi did nab two of them. He is off to a hot start this year after pilfering the Norfolkers of one of their prized passes.

Cioffi is the lone Rutgers defensive back with significant experience. Sophomore Andre Hunt logged just five tackles in 2014. Expect to see a trio of freshman—Saquan Hampton, Isaiah Wharton and Jarius Adams—spending significant time defending WSU's Air Raid attack.

This is the part where I usually say the Cougars are going to shred the inexperienced Rutgers defensive backfield through the air, but the Portland State game has shaken my confidence. WSU's vaunted receiving corps struggled to get open at times, and when they did quarterback Luke Falk was often hesitant to throw downfield.

Hopefully for the Cougs' sake, those were both one-game anomalies and they will get back to shredding suspect pass defenses as expected.