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October 4, 2013

Rutgers vs SMU: Who has the edge?

The Scarlet Knights kick off the AAC slate when it travels out to Texas to take on SMU on Saturday. Which team has the edge? We asked our resident experts!

Bobby Deren

Sam Erwin

Rutgers would have won a little more easily in this one had running back Paul James still been in the lineup. His absence doesn't make this one as decisive. Nevertheless, quarterback Gary Nova has made strides this season and looks to have put his sophomore woes behind him. SMU has had a rough go of things scoring points in the early stages of the season so I will give this one to Rutgers.
Which team has the more potent offense?

SMU has a very potent offense, especially through the air, and can gain a ton of yards. The Mustangs rank 11th in the nation in passing yards per game. That is not to say that they have been putting up points, because they haven't. But if they figure it out, they will come in bunches.

Gary Nova.Without Paul James in the lineup, there is a real chance Rutgers could struggle to gain yards on the ground. There is also a chance head coach Kyle Flood could use three different running backs by the game's end. That places more responsibility on the shoulders of Nova, who may have to move the offense via the pass. Nova has showed up in RU's two big games this season and he will be needed once more on Saturday.
Who is the Offensive 'X Factor,' and why?
Running back Traylon Shead, who will be returning from an injury suffered in the first game. SMU's run game has struggled mightily this season and Shead, a University of Texas transfer, has the potential to change that. He could either play to his potential and add a new dynamic to a good passing offense or struggle with a new system and returning from injury. If he does the first one, the Mustangs have a much better chance of winning.
Rutgers made a step up last game as the defense did a good job of limiting the Arkansas offense. However, the RU defense struggled quite a bit against the spread offense of Fresno State in game no.1. This Rutgers defense is young but is starting to gel whereas SMU seems as though it has had its share of cracks through the early stages of the season. This one goes to Rutgers.
Which team has the better defense?
Rutgers at this point of the season. SMU has gone up against some really good offenses but there are holes in the defense, mainly in pass coverage. They have the potential to be good but Rutgers has already proven themselves this season.
The Rutgers secondary. This unit was lit up in game no.1 against Fresno State and will be looking to bounce back against a similar type of offense. The cornerback trio of Lew Toler, Ian Thomas and Nadir Barnwell are still settling into their new roles while the free safety position is still looking for someone to step up and make a statement. If this unit can have a big day, it could spell big trouble for SMU.
Who is the defensive 'X Factor,' and why?
This week it will be junior linebacker Stephon Sanders. He's one of the faces of the defense but has been held in check and forced into coverage a lot this season. But when he can play the run and go after the quarterback, he's a force for SMU. He's my x-factor since Rutgers' system should finally give him a chance to do the latter.
Rutgers' field goal game has been lacking all season but its return game and punt block team makes up for any field goal deficiencies. Freshman Janarion Grant has turned into an immediate special teams star and gives Rutgers a dangerous weapon in the return game. Grant has the ability to turn any kick or punt into six points. The advantage here sways to Rutgers.
Who has the edge on special teams?
Without knowing too much about the Rutgers special teams, I am giving this one to them. SMU has had trouble on special teams this year. Not with field goals or punt coverage, but with actually distance on punts, kick-off coverage, and mental mistakes.

If this one comes down to the final drive, then it would likely mean that Rutgers struggled all day against the spread offense of SMU. In the final two minutes, it would be tough to make a stand where a defense has faltered all day. On the other side of the ball, Nova has shown the ability to lead the RU offense down the field in a hurry. He helped engineer a double-digit fourth quarter comeback against Arkansas and he is playing with a lot of confidence. I'll say whichever team has the ball last in this instance will have the advantage on Saturday.
If the game comes down to a final drive, which team drives the length of the field?
This is where I would give the edge to SMU. They already had to do this once this season, against Montana State, and looked comfortable doing it; more comfortable than when the pressure wasn't on. Granted, they shouldn't have needed that drive against Montana State but it's something they can do pretty easily.

SMU's spread offense will give Rutgers some fits at times, but the Scarlet Knights' talent will outlast the Mustangs through four quarters. Rutgers is playing with a lot of momentum while SMU is trying to forget a miserable September. Look for the game to be close for a little while before the Scarlet Knights pull away. Rutgers 38 SMU 23.

Which team will win?
The SMU offense hasn't shown me that they can score touchdowns or keep from making mistakes in terms of turnovers and penalties. I just don't see them turning that off now that conference starts against a quality Rutgers team. Give me Rutgers winning 35-28 and SMU throwing the ball 70+ times.

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