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October 19, 2012

Rutgers vs Temple: Who has the edge?

Rutgers travels to Philadelphia tomorrow in a game that matches up two teams that are undefeated in Big East action this year. Which team has the edge? We asked our resident experts!

Bobby Deren

John Di Carlo

While neither team has one of the higher ranked offenses in the nation, Rutgers has a more balanced attacked. Only four FBS passing offenses rank lower than Temple's.  Temple does have the services of standout running back Montel Harris, but Rutgers just has more weapons on the offensive side of the football.  The combination of Brandon Coleman, Tim Wright and  Mark Harrison have combined for 67 receptions on the season. Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison is 20th in the nation in rushing and has rushed for more than 100 yards in five of six games this season. Furthermore, quarterback Gary Nova has not thrown an interception in his last 153 attempts. Add in the fact that the Rutgers offensive line has only allowed three sacks this season, it gives RU a distinct advantage. A more balanced offensive attack gives Rutgers the edge in this one.
Which team has the more potent offense?
The edge here goes to Rutgers, and it starts up front with a very talented and reliable offensive line that ranks third nationally and tops in the Big East in sacks allowed. The relatively young starting five has also paved the way for sophomore running back Jawan Jamison, who has rushed for 665 yards this season and leads the Big East with 110.8 rushing yards per game. And although Rutgers ranks 97th nationally in total offense and 82nd in scoring offense, the Scarlet Knights have a quarterback in Gary Nova who's efficient, leads his team and doesn't make mistakes. He's thrown for 11 touchdowns, two interceptions and has not been picked off in his last 153 pass attempts. Temple certainly has playmakers in dual threat junior quarterback Chris Coyer (662 passing yards, six touchdowns; 302 rushing yards) and senior tailback Montel Harris (310 rushing yards), who transferred to North Broad Street for his final season of eligibility after becoming Boston College's all-time leading rusher. But the offensive line play has been spotty at times, and aside from sophomore slot receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick (12 catches, 196 yards), the wideouts have been dropping passes and not been able to stretch the field and consistently set up the play-action passing game. 
Gary Nova. The quarterback has the potential to have a field day against a Temple pass defense  that allowed UConn's Chandler Whitmer to throw for 293 yards in a losing effort last week.  Whitmer has not been the Big East's most potent passer, although Nova has managed each game very well. His freshman jitters look to be a thing of the past as the sophomore appears to be settling in more and more each week. Rutgers has played a bit conservatively over the last two games but Nova  may finally get the chance to air things out against the Owls. If Nova can stretch the field and utilize his talented crop of wide receivers, it could be a long day for Temple. Nova has grown up in quite a hurry and has only lost two games dating back to the start of his high school career.
Who is the Offensive 'X Factor,' and why?
It's Gary Nova. Why? Because Temple has a very talented pair of young linebackers in redshirt freshman middle linebacker Nate Smith (team-high 43 tackles) and freshman outside linebacker Tyler Matakevich (36 tackles - 34 of which have come in the last two games) who can pursue, stay with and bring down Scarlet Knights running back Jawan Jamison and at least contain him. But if Nova has time to throw like he has all season, he could really hurt the Owls on seam route throws like UConn did in the first quarter last week and test a Temple secondary that, save for sophomore cornerback Anthony Robey and some flashes from free safety Vaughn Carraway and strong safety Justin Gildea, has been largely inconsistent. Nova could also pick on senior cornerback Zamel Johnson, who has struggled all season and got benched for a few series last week in favor of former Scarlet Knight Abdul Smith.
Rutgers. It is one of the better defenses in the nation, checking in at No.18 overall. Rutgers is also very stout against the run with only one team in the nation (Alabama) doing better statistically at this point in the season. Defense enabled the Owls to come away with a 17-14 overtime win against UConn last week but it was the same UConn offense Rutgers held to three points a few weeks ago. Rutgers has an abundance of veteran leaders on the defensive side on the ball that has enabled the unit to play at a high level. The Rutgers defense starts ten upperclassmen and that experience has showed through the first half of the season. Sophomore safety Lorenzo Waters is the only underclassman on Rutgers' first-team defense.
Which team has the better defense?
The clear edge goes to Rutgers, which boasts the nation's No. 3 scoring defense. The Scarlet Knights have allowed just 11.5 points per game and trail only Alabama and Notre Dame in that category. Senior linebacker Khaseem Greene tallied 10.5  tackles in last week's win over Syracuse, and he also forced three fumbles, which shows you just how much he can affect a game. Oh, and the Scarlet Knights haven't allowed an opposing running back to rush for more than 100 yards in 10 straight games. Yes, Temple has 16 sacks, but they've been shared among 12 different players and defensive ends John Youboty, Sean Daniels and Marcus Green all lead the way with two apiece. They're all pretty good players, but none of them alone would strike fear into a very good Rutgers offensive line. The Owls will most likely need to blitz to get pressure on Nova, and that could leave an inconsistent secondary exposed Saturday.
Khaseem Greene. It may seem like the easy choice but the team feeds off Greene, and his performance through six games this season has been nothing short of tremendous. The returning Big East co-defensive player of the year is also a team leader and will look to lead the charge against the Temple running game. Expect to hear Greene's name quite a bit on Saturday as he is coming off a 14 tackle, 1.5 sack, three forced fumble and one interception performance against Syracuse. The Elizabeth, N.J. native just seems to get better with time.
Who is the defensive 'X Factor,' and why?
Temple's Nate Smith, a 6-foot, 230-pound redshirt freshman, wanted to follow in the footsteps of his brother, L.J. Smith, and play at Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights never offered him a scholarship. As a result, Smith will be playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder Saturday, and the tackling machine has the ability to go sideline to sideline and stick with a player like Jawan Jamison. If Smith can blow up a play or two or, more importantly, force a fumble and affect field position, it pushes the Owls a little closer to pulling off an upset at Lincoln Financial Field.
Temple is tops in the conference in net punting while Rutgers has struggled in that department. The kicking game is also a questionable one for Rutgers as true freshman Kyle Federico may be out again this weekend. On the other side of things, Temple kicker Brandon McManus has connected on 8-of-10 field goals this season. Temple is also doubling Rutgers' average per punt return. Rutgers is ever-dangerous blocking kicks and has the most blocks of any FBS team since 2009 (27). But that is not enough to swing this one in RU's favor as the special teams edge goes to Temple.
Who has the edge on special teams?
The slight edge here goes to the Owls. Temple senior Brandon McManus has an NFL leg as both a placekicker and punter. He drilled a 50-yard field goal two weeks ago in the Owls' win over USF and drilled the game-winning 29-yard field goal in overtime at UConn last week, and has twice booted punts of 61 yards this season. He's 8-of-10 on field goals this year and, ironically enough, both of his misses have been from 20-29 yards, which means he's a perfect 8-for-8 from 30 yards and beyond. McManus has also sent 21 of his 28 kickoffs deep for touchbacks, which could neutralize Rutgers' return specialist Jeremy Deering.  But like Temple, Rutgers can block kicks. Jamal Merrell blocked a field goal that was returned 75 yards for a touchdown by Duron Harmon in the Scarlet Knights' win over Syracuse.
I am going to give this one to Rutgers. Nova has proved that he can move the ball downfield in a hurry and RU's big, athletic receivers can stretch the field. So far this season, Rutgers has twelve pass plays of 20 yards on more. Rutgers has called a conservative game through most of the season, but the staff has plenty of options if it chooses to engage in a shootout. Meanwhile, Temple quarterback Chris Coyer is averaging only 20 pass attempts a game. Putting together a final drive late in the game would need to be dominated by the passing game, which is not Temple's strong point. The Rutgers defense has also done an excellent job of tightening up when it needs to, which could limit things for the Temple offense if it needs to cover a lot of ground in a hurry.
If the game comes down to a final drive, which team drives the length of the field?
Let's call this one a draw. Rutgers could very well do this with a terrific offensive line that doesn't allow its quarterback to be touched, a dynamic back in Jawan Jamison and an efficient quarterback in Gary Nova. But don't discount Temple here. For whatever reason, the Owls have started slow and scored just 16 first quarter points this season but finished strong with 44 in the fourth quarter, the most of any period. After struggling through an inconsistent performance last week, Temple quarterback Chris Coyer fired off a 33-yard completion to wide receiver Deon Miller and then a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Fitzpatrick to tie the game and send it to overtime, so he's proven as recently as last week that he can lead his team down the field when it matters most.
This game is a very favorable matchup for Rutgers and a bad one for Temple. Rutgers' tough run defense is likely to force Temple to revert to the air, which could put a lot of pressure on Temple quarterback Chris Coyer. Steve Addazio's Temple squad should still play a tough, physical game but Rutgers will exploit one too many mismatches on the day. The RU defense is playing very well and will again dictate the tempo of what figures to be a smash-mouth type of game. Rutgers 21 Temple 10.

Which team will win?
This is as big a football game as Temple has played in a long time, and it's a meaningful one, too. Few would have thought the Owls, at this juncture of the season, would be playing the Scarlet Knights for first place in the Big East in their first season back in the league since 2004. But that slow start thing - the 16 first-quarter points - could really hurt Temple Saturday against an undefeated Rutgers team that's pretty steady across the board. The Owls could make this one interesting, but that Scarlet Knights' offensive line will most likely give Gary Nova too much time to pick apart Temple's secondary. Rutgers 28, Temple 20.

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