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November 21, 2013

Rutgers vs. UCF: Who has the edge?

Rutgers takes to the road to face UCF today in a game that comes off a short week with both teams having played on Saturday. Which team has the edge? We asked our resident experts!

Bobby Deren

Brandon Helwig

Rutgers has struggled on the offensive side of the football, posting an average of 16 points per game over the last four contests. The return of Paul James helps matters but quarterback Gary Nova has performed very poorly in three of RU's last four games. Add in a dinged up receiving corps and RU is limping to the finish line this season. On the other side of things, UCF's high-powered offense has the team in position to head to its first ever BCS bowl. UCF's pass offense ranks 26th in the nation and the offense has been consistent, posting an average of 35.2 points per game. The edge here goes to UCF.
Which team has the more potent offense?
UCF. The Knights have a balanced attack led by junior quarterback Blake Bortles, who has been the key factor for the 8-1 start and top 20 ranking. The wide receiver corps runs a legitimate five-deep with a different player stepping up each week. Against Temple, it was J.J. Worton with a 10-catch, 179-yard, three-touchdown performance, the last of which made all the highlight shows as perhaps the top catch of the year. In the run game, Storm Johnson and Will Stanback provide a solid one-two punch.
Over the years, Rutgers has relied heavily on its defense, but this year is an exception to that rule. The RU defensive unit has been shredded this season, particularly against the pass. Only three FBS teams have surrendered more passing yards per game this season. Rutgers checks in at 92nd in the nation in total defense and tonight, the Scarlet Knights will start their eleventh different defensive back of the season. The defense has struggled to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks while also having problems forcing turnovers. UCF is not coming off its best performance of the year, yielding 36 points to Temple last Saturday. Still, the UCF defense has been much more consistent than Rutgers and gets a decisive edge in this one.
Which team has the better defense?
Up until last week, UCF's defense had performed beyond expectations. They came up huge the previous week against Houston, limiting a team that was averaging more than 40 points per game to just 14, but a subpar effort nearly allowed Temple to pull off the upset. The defense has lost five players for the season who have started a game, the most recent being DE Seyvon Lowry who was hurt late last week. Still, UCF's defense has the better overall track record, and put forth a much better performance against recent mutual opponent Houston (UCF gave up 367 yards and 14 points, while Rutgers gave up 611 yards and 49 points), so I'm giving the edge to UCF especially with it being a home game.

Paul James. With a passing attack that has regressed through the course of the season, establishing a solid ground attack will be vital in RU's chance for an upset. The ground attack depends on the running of RU sophomore running back Paul James. If he can get going against UCF, it could make for an interesting ball game.
Who is the offensive X-factor and why?
Storm Johnson. Rutgers is has been solid against the run and loves to pressure, so I'd expect Johnson to get some opportunities to catch passes on hot routes. He took advantage on such plays at Louisville which went on to earn him American Offensive Player of the Week.
LB Kevin Snyder. In his first year as a starter, Snyder has shown progress at the weakside linebacker position. He's second on the team in tackles but has yet to have that breakout day where he comes up with a play that changes the scope of the game. Fellow starting linebacker Steve Longa has been the team's top defensive player all year, but will need some help if RU is to have a chance at the upset. Some big plays from Snyder could help set the tone for that.
Who is the defensive 'X Factor,' and why?
CB Jacoby Glenn. The redshirt freshman missed the Temple game due to a sprained ankle and Temple took advantage of his replacement, true freshman Shaquill Griffin. Although this is his first year playing, Glenn has already shown to be an up-and-coming corner as he currently leads the American in passes defended with 10 breakups and two interceptions. His return is especially important as I'm sure he'll be tasked with covering Rutgers star wide receiver Brandon Coleman.
This is one area where the Scarlet Knights are not lacking. The punt/kick block unit remains one of the best in the country and Janarion Grant is a threat to take any return to the house. Punter Nick Marsh has been a solid addition and while Kyle Federico has seen his share of kicking woes, Rutgers has enough weapons to get the edge here.
Who has the edge on special teams?
UCF has been solid across the board. Shawn Moffitt is 14 of 16 on field goals, which included last week's game winner against Temple. Punter Caleb Houston has done a good job punting - last week he put one down on the one-yard line, which ultimately led to a safety. The return game has been good, but UCF has yet to break one off for a touchdown. UCF gets the edge.
Rutgers has done it in the past, but so has UCF. Each team used last-minute scoring drives to defeat Temple for their most recent wins. Both quarterbacks have performed in that kind of clutch situation but I will have to go with the hot hand here and that's UCF.
If the game comes down to a final drive, which team drives the length of the field?
UCF has shown they can. There are enough weapons offensively to move the chains consistently, but the Knights need to capitalize on red zone opportunities. If anything, that's been the glaring issue in the past two games. Advantage UCF.
Turmoil has surrounded this Rutgers team for the last couple of weeks both on and off the field. The Scarlet Knights have been blown out in their last two AAC losses but they match up much better against UCF. Rutgers will keep it close for a bit but at this point in the season, things are not clicking well enough to pull off the upset. UCF 31 Rutgers 17.

Which team will win?
UCF finds a way to make every game interesting, including games at Memphis and Temple where the opponent should have been outmatched. Still, it's a home game, and the Knights have played much better in Orlando. The bigger question is which Rutgers team will show up? UCF 38 Rutgers 28.

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