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October 26, 2012

Rutgers vs Kent State: Who has the edge?

Rutgers returns to High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday for a Homecoming game against Kent State (6-1). Which team has the edge? We asked ScarletNation.com writer Bobby Deren, as well as Allen Moff of the Record Courier!

Bobby Deren

Allen Moff of the Record-Courier

This season, the Scarlet Knights have scored points in bunches when needed. The offense is coming off a 28-point outburst last week against Temple which spanned 18 minutes of play in the second half. Jawan Jamison has rushed for over 100 yards in six of seven games this season and quarterback Gray Nova earned his second Big East offensive player of the week honors following his four-touchdown performance against Temple. Nova has also distributed the football evenly to RU's top three receivers: Brandon Coleman (26), Tim Wright (25), Mark Harrison (24). Meanwhile Kent State features an extremely dangerous weapon in running back Dri Archer, who is only 92 yards behind Jamison on the season as he checks in with 687 rushing yards on only 68 carries. Archer also leads the nation with 12 total touchdowns. However, the Flashes have not faced a defense of the caliber of Rutgers. With only a limited amount of weapons against the nation's No.14 defense, Kent State won't likely total the 33.71 point average it has compiled through the first seven games. However, Archer could wind up being the best offensive player Rutgers faces all season. The RU defense definitely needs to be aware of him. Despite the presence of Archer, Rutgers still has the more potent offense.
Which team has the more potent offense?
Rutgers has the edge. The Flashes are a run-first team, and they have a pair of backs with vastly different styles that have been extremely effective. Sophomore Trayion Durham is a 250-pound running back built much more like a fullback, who they love to pound teams with up the middle. Durham is very dependable in short-yardage situations, and has enjoyed great success in the fourth quarter against worn-down defenses. They also have a speedster in junior Dri Archer, who currently leads the nation in all-purpose yards (212.9 ypg). Kent State will use Archer as a receiver and as a running back, lining him up in all different spots in various formations hoping to get him the ball in space. Archer is not very big (5-8, 175) but he's extremely fast and explosive; if he hits a crease and gets ahead of defenders, he will not be caught, and he's even able to outrun tacklers with angles on him. Kent State's quarterback is senior Spencer Keith, a fourth-year starter. Keith has been inconsistent throughout his career, but has done an excellent job of taking care of the football in the Flashes' last 12 games, when they've gone 10-2. Keith wasn't making many big plays early in the season - he didn't throw a touchdown pass until KSU's fourth game - but he's taking more risks and being rewarded in the past four games, throwing at least one TD pass in each contest.
The Rutgers offensive line. As long as Rutgers can control the trenches, it should be able to control the game. Kent State is yielding 401 yards per game and solid protection could make for a big day from both Jamison and Nova. The RU offensive line has allowed only four sacks on the season, two of which came on intentional grounding calls. The unit could also key the time of possession battle which could sway the advantage heavily in Rutgers' favor.
Who is the Offensive 'X Factor,' and why?
I'm going to say Spencer Keith. Rutgers will load the box on Kent State in an attempt to limit its rushing attack, just like virtually every other opponent has done, except the Scarlet Knights' defensive personnel is obviously much more talented that others KSU has faced. So Keith is going to have to make plays in the passing game for the Flashes to be effective offensively. If he has a rough day and throws some interceptions, it will be a long afternoon for Kent State.
Rutgers. The RU defense is one of the better defenses in the country and will be the best unit Kent State has faced to date. The talent level alone puts RU ahead of the Flashes and the number of playmakers on defense will make this a tough task for the KSU offense. RU linebacker Khaseem Green is playing at level as high as any defender in the country and he has plenty of company as the Scarlet Knights boast the No.14 ranked defense in the nation. The Kent State defense is allowing 401 yards per game and just doesn't have the depth that Rutgers does. The difference in recruiting between BCS and non-BCS schools is apparent as Rutgers' talent pool is just much deeper.
Which team has the better defense?
Rutgers. The Flashes' defense has fared extremely well against run-oriented teams, but has struggled against up-tempo, pass-happy opponents. Rutgers seems pretty traditional offensively, which bodes well for the Flashes, although once again the Scarlet Knights' personnel is simply much more talented than other offenses KSU has faced overall. The Flashes have struggled to generate pressure without blitzing, and have given up huge chunks of yardage in the passing game at times. But they've also been able to force turnovers - 6 alone in last week's win over Western Michigan.
The RU linebackers. Greene will likely be all over the field, but look for the entire corps to keep a close eye on Archer. Containing Archer will be key in slowing the Kent State offense and the Flashes could find themselves turning to Archer quite a bit throughout the game. Archer's speed is top-notch and if he gets into the second level of the defense, it will be tough to keep pace with him. Archer can also cut on a dime and Rutgers will have a tall order keeping him contained.
Who is the defensive 'X Factor,' and why?
Junior tackle Roosevelt Nix. Nix is undersized for a defensive lineman (5-11, 245), but he's extremely quick and very disruptive. He loves to shoot gaps and force turnovers in the backfield.
The presence of Archer gives Kent State the slight edge here. He has already returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and it might not be a bad idea for Rutgers to kick away from him. Kent State also checks in at No.17 in net punting while Rutgers' Justin Doerner has struggled this season, which has led to RU's 95th national ranking in net punting average (34.97). Rutgers' kicking game also remains a big question mark with Kyle Federico still an uncertainty for Saturday's game. Rutgers is, however, one of the top teams in the nation when it comes to blocking kicks and only Texas and Ohio State have blocked more this season.
Who has the edge on special teams?
This is intriguing matchup, featuring two of the best all-around special teams units in the country. Archer leads the nation in kickoff returns and has brought three back for touchdowns, but he hasn't had an attempt the past two games as teams have kicked away from him. Meanwhile, Rutgers leads the nation in kickoff returns. Kent State senior kicker Freddy Cortez has a strong leg on kickoffs, with 16 touchbacks this season. He said earlier this week that he will kick the ball deep to Rutgers. Cortez has also made eight straight field goals, freshman punter Anthony Melchiori has been spectacular, and KSU's coverage units have been solid. This is certainly a game that could be decided with a big play produced or allowed on special teams. I'll call this one an even draw.
The Scarlet Knights have proven this year that they can cover a lot of ground in a hurry. Their passing attack is a bit better than Kent State's but Archer can always turn in a touchdown on any given play. Nevertheless, this one may come down to Nova vs. Keith and which quarterback can master the two-minute offense. The amount of weapons on RU's side of the ball trumps Kent State's and swings the advantage in the Scarlet Knights' favor.
If the game comes down to a final drive, which team drives the length of the field?
Keith actually led the Flashes on an 86-yard drive in the final two minutes with no timeouts to set up the game-winning field goal against Ball State but that was against Ball State. Can he do that against Rutgers? Not sure. If I'm Kent State, I'm just hoping to get a shot at a game-winning drive against the Scarlet Knights. If I do, I'll take my chances. But this one goes to Rutgers.
Rutgers is a step ahead in the talent department, but it will not likely see a more talented offensive player this regular season than Archer. Yet, one player cannot single-handedly win a game and Archer will need some help. Kent State just doesn't have enough weapons to keep pace with Rutgers for all four quarters. The Flashes will be no pushovers and could keep the game close for a while. In the end, Rutgers will just have too many offensive weapon s and its defense will find a way to make plays when needed. Final score: Rutgers 35 Kent State 17.

Which team will win?
The Scarlet Knights will win behind their staunch defense, but they'll also know afterward that they've been in a battle. Head coach and New Jersey native Darrell Hazell always has his Flashes well-prepared, and they will not back down. I can also see a big play on special teams playing a huge role in this game, and look for turnovers to decide the outcome as incredibly both teams are plus-14 thus far in turnover margin. Final score: Rutgers 27 Kent State 17.

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