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October 25, 2013

Rutgers vs Houston: Who has the edge?

Rutgers returns to familiar territory this weekend when the Scarlet Knights take on Houston in an AAC matchup. The visiting team dropped from the unbeaten ranks last week with a tight, high-scoring loss to BYU (47-46). Which team has the edge? We went to our resident experts - Bobby Deren and Robert Sellers - for their insights!

Bobby Deren

Robert Sellers
Houston lit up the scoreboard last weekend with a 46-point outburst against BYU. Rutgers, on the other hand, took a step back scoring only 10 points in its last contest against Louisville. The absence of starting tailback Paul James has hindered the Rutgers offense. Without James in the lineup, Rutgers becomes more reliant on the pass and less effective in the running game. Houston has a more balanced attack, leaning on a running game which features Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson. Rutgers has also had some bumps and bruises to its wide receiving corps so the advantage in this one swings Houston's way.
Which team has the more potent offense? I think Houston gets the nod on this one. Although it has not been quite as prolific as in the Case Keenum era, the Cougars' offense is still predicated on running as many plays as possible as quickly as possible. Freshman quarterback John O'Korn has continued to improve throughout the season. he makes big plays but will still show some freshman mistakes from time to time. The receiving group is much improved over last season helping give the freshman many options. The Cougars have scored in every quarter of every game this season and has the number one scoring offense in the conference.
Gary Nova. Nova was pretty solid this season up until last game against Louisville when he threw four interceptions. Nova has had an up and down career at Rutgers, raising the question 'which Nova will show up this week?' It is a question Rutgers fans have asked on more than one occasion. Houston's pass defense is among the worst in the nation and if Nova is on point, he could pile up the points for the Scarlet Knights. However, Rutgers fans have seen Nova falter in games where RU was the favorite. As it has been the whole season, Nova's performance could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Who is the Offensive 'X Factor,' and why?
For the Cougars, they have had different receivers step up each game but the most consistent for them has been sophomore Deontay Greenberry who has seen a huge step forward in his production with a move to the inside this season after playing outside all season as a freshman. Junior Daniel Spencer has had a couple very big games for Houston, including last week against BYU where he had seven catches for 186 yards and a score but Greenberry is averaging over eight catches a game for just over 112 yards a game.

It was a long first half of the season for the Rutgers defense as it surrendered more than 50 points on two occasions. Houston's defense was victimized by BYU last week and currently has one of the worst pass defenses in the FBS (ranked 117th). Rutgers has surrendered more points this season, but the Scarlet Knights have also faced much tougher competition. Starting two freshman cornerbacks will be a challenge for the RU defense against a high-powered attack of Houston. However, the Houston defense may also find itself on its heels against Rutgers' passing attack. Both defenses have their share of flaws so I'll call this one a draw.
Which team has the better defense?
This category to me is a very close one for this match-up. Rutgers looks to have done a very good job, short of the two road overtime games, in holding opponents to low scoring outputs. With that being said the Cougars have been very successful at creating turnovers on defense. So much so, they are leading the nation with a +14 turnover margin and with 21 forced turnovers. They have their share of weak spots but have done a good job this season under first year defensive coordinator David Gibbs in bending but not breaking.
Jeremy Deering. Rutgers' starting free safety will need to play bigger against the spread attack of Houston. The Scarlet Knights will be starting two freshman cornerbacks, which will present a more pressing need for the RU safeties to pick up their play. In his first year as a defensive starter, Deering has not made much of an impact. This week, a big game out of Deering could go a long way for the RU defense. Deering has been backed up by Tejay Johnson this season, who has proven to be rather ineffective. The RU secondary has struggled all season and Deering could play a big part in alleviating those struggles.
Who is the defensive 'X Factor,' and why?
This one is a little easier to pick than on the offensive side of the ball. Junior middle linebacker Derrick Mathews has started every game since his freshman season and has averaged over 100 tackles each year, but this year now that he has moved to the middle he has stepped his game up to a new level. He has averages just over 10 tackles a game this season but may have had his best game of his standout career last week against BYU in which he recorded four tackles-for-loss, including three sacks (one that was a safety). He also had a 29 yard pick-six early in the game that gave Houston their first lead of the game.
Rutgers freshman punt/kick returner Janarion Grant gives Rutgers an advantage as he is very dangerous whenever he touches the football. Louisville opted for all short kicks last week to minimize Grant's effectiveness. Rutgers punt/kick block continues to be one of the best in the country, although its kicking game has been very lackluster through the first half of the season. Nick Marsh has been solid punting the football for RU but is still not playing at the level of Houston punter Richie Leone. Rutgers' big-play ability on special teams has been a major plus again this season and that big-play ability pushes RU just past Houston in this one.
Who has the edge on special teams?
I am thinking Rutgers holds the edge on this one but only barely. Richie Leone handles all the kicking for the Cougars punts, field goals, PATs and kick-offs. As a punter he is one of the top in the nation and has a future on Sundays doing it. His field goal kicking has been very good at times (making five against Temple in week two) and at times has struggled (missing two last week against BYU. Rutgers has a slightly better return game but true freshman Demarcus Ayers for the Cougars has gotten better each week, breaking loose for his first touchdown of the season last week against BYU. This one may be too close to call but maybe a slight edge to Rutgers.
Both teams have the capability of covering a lot of ground in a hurry. However, it might not come down who has the better offense at the end of the game. Both of these offenses will be facing defenses that have not performed well against the pass this season. Rutgers has not only struggled defending the pass, but its defense has also faltered late in games this season. This one may come down to a matter of which defense has the capability of holding up longer. Given Rutgers' fourth quarter struggles this season, the slight nod goes to Houston.

Which team drives the length of the field?
Again I see this one as a close comparison. Both of these teams have the ability to put points up in bunches. With Houston's defense forcing so many turnovers this season, they have actually had fairly short fields to work with on offense. I think this one comes down to quarterback play and currently I think Rutgers is getting a little more out consistency of the position than Houston is. I also think Rutgers has a little better ground game right now that Houston does which lends itself to sustain linger drives.
The over looks like the smart bet in this one as both teams figure to score quite a bit of points. Rutgers comes in a little more battle tested, having faced more formidable competition up to this point. The talent pool is a little deeper on the Rutgers roster and that talent will be enough to carry Rutgers to victory, although this one looks like it will be close for a while. Rutgers 45 Houston 35.
Which team will win? Predict the score........
I think this game has a real shot at turning into a shootout much like Houston has seen in several games this season as has Rutgers. I think Rutgers will jump out early but Houston will catch-up with the help of a turnover or two on defense and then they will battle it out into the second half. Rutgers 42 Houston 38

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