Craig Has The Scout - Rutgers 2020
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Who: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
When: Noon central, 1:00 pm Eastern - November 14th, 2020
Where: SHI Stadium, Piscataway, NJ
Head Coach: Greg Schiano. Rutgers rehired Greg Schiano to resurrect something it only took him over five years to build the first time. That five-year timetable is what Schiano sold in his interviews and for $4 million a year that is a good sell on patience. Schiano is not going to be dealing with a collapsing Big East this time at Rutgers. Schiano's best-case scenario is the Scarlet Knights becoming relevant in the B1G. Rutgers made a large bet that Schiano can get back to relevant, and help generate revenues in a failing athletic department. The early results show a motivated team playing with effort. The Scarlet Knights are averaging 9 penalties a game though, so there is still room for improvement.
Offensive Style: Spread using multiple formations and tempo. Sean Gleeson is the OC. Gleeson came to Rutgers from Oklahoma State a year ago. He pulled a Brad Underwood at Oklahoma State, staying for only a year before bolting. Gleeson had spent a great deal of time in New Jersey previously as the OC at Princeton. Gleeson put up some incredibly fun and explosive offenses at Princeton.
Defensive Style: Hybrid 3-4 with aggressive tendencies using Cover 4. Robb Smith gets a second go-around against the Illini. The last time he saw the Illini, they lit him up as DC of Minnesota and then was promptly fired. He now joins up with long time mentor and boss Schiano. Smith loves to attack and be aggressive. They will run base nickel behind the upfront Hybrid look.
Specialists: The Scarlet Knights have a solid set of specialists. The most interesting part is the number of trick plays they have run this season, averaging 2 onside kicks per game! Illinois will need to be disciplined on special teams to avoid giving up a big score.
Three Things to Watch
The Illini Rush offense. The main question for Illinois will be if the Illini can establish and maintain a rushing attack. Rutgers has been selling out to stop the run this season, and it has kept them in games with two top ten opponents thus far (I just have to type this out that the two teams are Ohio State and Indiana). The return of Doug Kramer hopefully allows Illinois to be solid in assignments.
The Illini Passing attack against the Rutgers Pass D. The Scarlet Knights pass defense is one of the worst you have seen. They are giving up a horrific 74% completion rate along with 11 TDs. Opponents are averaging 9.0 yards per attempt. Robb Smith gets a bit of a pass though as they are in the first year of the defense.
The Illini Pass defense against the Rutgers Pass offense. Lovie decided to tell Robb, hold my beer. The Illini are giving up a 79.5% completion rate and 8 TDs. Opponents are averaging 10.1 yard per attempt this season. This is either year 5 or 2.5 of the Lovie scheme depending on how you want to view it.
Scouting Review - Offense
Schiano has been serious about rebuilding Rutgers, and in the negotiations to rebuild he received quite a commitment to spend and upgrade the facilities. He had to do some real Jersey politicking to get there, but the fanbase was very excited to see Schiano get a chance at resurrecting the program again. The fanbase also noticed Schiano had a large pool of money to hire assistants and went to work putting together dream candidates for the role.
One of the three on the list was Sean Gleeson, Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator. (Another was Gleeson's replacement at Princeton). Gleeson was a well-known quantity in New Jersey, and somewhat of a local legend. Prior to Oklahoma State, Gleeson was the Princeton offensive coordinator for five years where he was known for innovating with packages and personnel (including the three quarterback formation).
Gleeson's results were stunning though, leading to increases in points per game every year. The 2018 offense averaged 47 points per game in an undefeated season. Gleeson began using 11 personnel fairly exclusively, but utilized variations of the scheme to take advantage of their best personnel. Gleeson has a different version of the mantra Feed The Studs.
The Rutgers offense is lacking in most of the weapons Gleeson was able to stockpile at Princeton, and the results are not where the Scarlet Knight staff would prefer. Gleeson believes in running tempo though to create mismatches and move the ball. They have a rough YPP average (4.1) but are strong in the points per play (0.39). The stats there tell you that Rutgers has a large number of explosive plays and a great deal of mediocrity.
The main issue holding back the Scarlet Knights is the passing game. Gleeson must love the roster, Rutgers currently has six scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. The starter is Noah Vedral, a transfer from Nebraska.
COVID really hurt the Scarlet Knights, as they missed all spring and fall to install the new system and build rapport and timing in the offense with a transfer starter. Vedral has given Rutgers the best opportunity to win though since he is a dual-threat and mobile quarterback but has a big arm they have not been able to take advantage of yet.
Now onto the names you will hear most on Saturday. The most talented receiver on the roster is Aron Cruickshank, who transferred in from Wisconsin. Rutgers has been using him in jet sweeps, motion, and other various ways to get the ball in his hands. In addition to the transfer, the Scarlet Knights are returning 4* talent Bo Melton and Isaiah Washington from last year.
The Gleeson offense uses both zone and power blocking schemes and leans heavily on a workhorse running back. That is Isaih Pacheco this season. The key of the offense is to lull teams to sleep with standard runs and reads, then to proceed with an unexpected twist to confuse normal reads. To begin lulling defenses though, they start with the read-option as the base.
Vedral has good wheels though and is more than happy to keep. Again, Vedral is a dual-threat QB, and the most dangerous runner Illinois will have faced this year. Here is Vedral on the keep in a couple of looks.
Vedral is good at riding the option, and I have yet to see him make a bad read on the read-option in the three games.
Gleeson is mixing up the offense and gives the defense multiple things to keep track of with the eye candy. One is using Power Run looks in the run game. He used the counter against Indiana when nothing else was working, but against Ohio State and Michigan State, he ran Power read option.
Gleeson provides an RPO look on this play, but the read was on the safety for keep or give. Although the video quality is awful, here is the same look against Ohio State with a wider angle.
In the Ohio State instance, this is a pure Power run. Vedral tries to hold the safeties with a play-action look.
Once an opponent gets comfortable viewing the Power action, Gleeson will throw a counter punch to the defense. Here is a reverse off the same action to Cruickshank.
Rutgers got their best receiver in space against a speedy Buckeye D. Cruickshank broke a tackle and then a 30-yard run.
Gleeson gets major accolades for utilizing his best weapons, no matter the position. As mentioned above, Rutgers has 6 scholarship QBs on the roster (and a former QB playing DB). Last year's starter was Langan, and the 2018 starter was Sitkowski. Both have gotten in-game reps this year. Gleeson has taken advantage of having multiple QBs though, installing a package with Vedral and Langan both in the backfield at the same time. Rutgers here is lining up with Vedral and Langan in the backfield, then motioning Vedral out of the backfield. Vedral then motions back across the formation leaving open a few options.
Here they hand off to Vedral and run a WR out route. The LB reads this well, if he had not Vedral has the option to keep. This play is pretty unique. Another option is for Langan to keep the ball.
Gleeson is utilizing the tools at his disposal, and this is a pretty novel way to do it.
Now moving over to the part of the offense you will see most on Saturday, the passing game. The Scarlet Knights have been using a fairly simple pass protection scheme. Here is a bubble screen with slide protection in the opposite direction of the play.
As you can see here, the OL is setting up to run as if this is a tunnel screen. The action with the running back pulls the weak side linebacker away from the play side and allows the WR options of the sideline, or back to the middle with the tunnel option.
Having shown the Power run option above, Gleeson will utilize the defense cheating to use play action. The Scarlet Knights are motioning the H-back across the formation to get a read on the defense and move the LBs.
In this instance, they hit the crossing route. I believe that Rutgers was trying to hit a deep post on this. The motion was an action they used to set up out routes as well. The defense did not bump the linebackers and Vedral read it, then stared down his #1 option and completed the out. They used the motion again here.
Again, the LBs bump giving Vedral a pre-snap read. The OLB for the Buckeyes took a nice drop here forcing the sideline check down. The primary read was the in route the OLB had covered. I only saw passing action out of the H-back motion, so I fully expect Gleeson to introduce a counter to it this weekend.
The next pass protection scheme is a simple 6 man slide protection. The slide is away from the H-back. Vedral is looking for the quick out in the soft spot of the Cover 3 zone the Buckeyes are showing here.
The soft part of the zones is what Gleeson looked to exploit, and did a solid job against Ohio State. Scarlet Knight QBs were 34/49 against the Buckeyes. They ran the same protection scheme against Indiana and Michigan State too, taking advantage of quick slants against both of them and the Buckeyes.
In addition to motion with the H-back, the Scarlet Knights also motion the slot quite often. The slot motion is set up for a jet sweep similar to the reverse Cruickshank ran above, so in the next couple of weeks expect them to run it. In the meantime, they ran a couple of interesting concepts following the slot motion. The first is a RB flood pass.
The motion across the formation froze the LBs and allowed Rutgers to isolate Pacheco on the OLB to the edge. With a WR downfield for blocking support, this has a chance to break as a big play. The other play they used on this motion looks like a bubble screen being set up on the near side, then they release the "blocker" upfield.
This is another shot play that Ohio State defended very well, but the scheme still allowed the wideout to slip into the open zone for a big gain.
The last look is the play-action deep shots Rutgers will take. Vedral does not have the strongest arm, so he has to wind up for the passes. The Scarlet Knights use a very bad run action on the front end of the play.
Gleeson had good timing on both of these shots, as Vedral was not under pressure and both routes opened up on the defenses.
Gleeson is among the best at taking advantage of defenses. Sitting in a predictable shell allows Gleeson to pick apart the weaknesses of the defensive schemes. The Illini will need to mix up the looks on Saturday to prevent allowing Rutgers to get their offense in gear.
Scouting Review - Defense
Greg Schiano took a page out of the Lovie Smith playbook to improve the Scarlet Knights defense. The 2019 version was brutal, and a major improvement was not coming by scheme alone. Rutgers was returning all but 4 players off the two-deep, but Schiano went for the talent upgrade for improvement. To the transfer portal! They added a former 4* DT from Ohio State (Barrow), a former 3* DT from Michigan (Dwumfour), a former 3* DT from BC (Burke), and a former 4* safety from Ohio State (White). White and Dwumfour have cemented themselves into starting roles, and Barrow is in the second wave of DL. The added depth allows the Scarlet Knights to stay fresh and generate aggressive, pressure defense.
The plan for DC was not as clear. Robb Smith was a late hire for Schiano, and definitely not his first choice. The fan choice and Schiano's first offer went to Anthony Campanile. Campanile was the LB coach for Michigan last year, and he turned down both Schiano at Rutgers and Boston College. He left Michigan to be LB coach for the Miami Dolphins. Campanile's brother Nunzio is on the staff and was the interim coach last year.
Schiano moved through his Rolodex and landed on Smith, his former defensive assistant at both Rutgers and the Buccaneers. Since leaving Schiano, Smith has not fared well with failed gigs at both Arkansas and Minnesota. Schiano knows that Smith runs a system that meshed well with the talent on the roster, as well as one Schiano was comfortable playing.
The first item on the repair list for Rutgers was to build something that looked like a run defense. Last season they surrendered 4.9 YPC and focused this season on being stronger against the run. They've improved that to 3.1 YPC so far. Last year's pass defense looked fine statistically, but stats can be deceiving. The major factor showing a strong pass defense was the only time they saw a pass was in very obvious passing downs. The pass defense has statistically (and reality) been very poor this season. It will improve over time. The defense is predicated on getting pressure and preventing large chunk plays while forcing turnovers. They have generated eight turnovers so far this season.
Robb Smith has been coy about discussing his defense, not defining it as a 3-4, 4-3, or 3-3-5. They are using a base 3-man front while moving an LB to a hand down end at times. The main focus has been on aggressive play-calling and hoping for havoc plays or forcing turnovers. As mentioned above, they have forced 8 TOs this year, but seven came in the victory against Michigan State. Still, they forced 10 all of last season.
The base defense for most downs is a 3-4, with an OLB putting a hand in the ground. The DTs are very aggressive about pushing upfield, and the LBs are overly aggressive in run stopping.
The ends for Rutgers look undersized and get pushed around. As a result, Smith has been very aggressive in blitzing his defense to cover up issues along the front. As I mentioned above, the DTs are very aggressive getting upfield, as seen here.
The MLB got caught in the play-action here and opened up the gap Penix exploited. The LBs are often out of position on play action. Here is the same play against a run play, where the penetration occurred on the play side.
The OG for Indiana was on skates here, and the DT (Dwumfour) had leverage. The Indiana OL blocked this up fairly well except for the play side guard. Getting Kramer back and moving Green back to guard should be a bonus for Illinois as Green's wrestling background should help. Brown is the one to watch on the interior of the line.
Rutgers loves to loop the DE or OLB around the tackles while slanting the tackles or blitzing LBs. The loop is typically used on passing downs by most DCs, but Rutgers has been running it on standard downs. The defense is changing the standard playbook to generate pressure and big plays. Here is the look with the LB blitz.
You might not notice what the OLB is doing (end of line near side) because the OT catches him in the loop and relocates him 15 yards downfield. The near side LB is blitzing across the offense and hitting the gap between the center and far side guard. The play call was about the worst possible call, but they are willing to give up the big plays to try and generate pressure. In a passing down, they ran the motion with the DE doing the loop and blitzing the LBs.
This was a nice heads up play by Sparty, but the pressure never got home. When you are bringing six, you need to get there.
Schiano and Smith have taken some plays out of the Jim Leonhard playbook, using overload blitzes. The defense is trying to gain a numbers advantage on one side of the line, rushing 4 against 3.
I think the DTs are doing a tackle twist, but I'm really unsure what #50 is doing in the clip. If he gets width, he should come clean past the right guard, but he gets caught by the center in pass pro. That was either a very poor pass rush, or a poorly executed stunt.
Speaking of poorly executed line stunts, here is the end loop again, where Rutgers is running Cover 2 behind it.
The OLB is looping here and takes WAY too long to get pressure on the QB. The time in the pocket allows the Indiana receivers to find a hole in the zone for a big gain. Here is another loop with Cover 2 behind it.
Here is a better execution of the loop by the DE, but really good pass pro by Indiana. The center stayed home and was waiting on the looper to arrive. This play right here is one of the major bonuses of having Kramer and Green in their familiar spots this week. In both of these instances, they are looping the OLB on the rush. In this clip, they do the loop with the DE and get home with the rush.
The DE stays tight to the DTs in his rush and comes clean into the pocket. He didn't maintain rush discipline but flushed Penix. In true Rutgers fashion though they took a personal foul at the end of the play. The back end of the defense is running man coverage too, which is why Penix took off.
Rutgers is blitzing all positions on the field to generate the pressure. Here is a Nickel blitz (and he ran himself right out of position)
Again, the Scarlet Knights are in man coverage on the back end. Once the RB beats the nickel, he breaks a big run due to no 2nd level support.
Rutgers is getting very aggressive on the DL to create pressure and disrupt opponents. The execution is not the best I've ever seen though.
In that clip, a DE and OLB both stunt to the same hole. I'm unsure of what the process was behind that clip, but plays like that should allow Illinois to break big plays.
I've been picking on the Rutgers pass rush, but similar to Illini LBs, the Scarlet Knight LBs are not great in pass defense. They tend to lose receivers as they pass them off between zones. The failure was apparent on crossing routes between the two middle linebackers, as well as on TEs in the flats. Like this
The H back here motions across the formation and was never picked up as a receiving threat on the outside zone. Again, this was a pretty common occurrence.
Rutgers is struggling on defense, but that is not that much different than a year ago. The difference is Schiano is trying to create pressure with scheme. The Scarlet Knights lack the quality depth to play base, assignment sound football. As a result, they are mixing coverages and line play. The aggressive play has neutralized opposing run games but allowed opponents to pass for 871 yards on the season (Illinois is at 835). Rutgers is going to dare the Illini to beat them in the air, and with Peters out, that is a disadvantage for the Illini.
What does it mean?
This Rutgers team is not good but improving. The first year of any rebuild can be ugly, but the key is always to have the team stay engaged and motivated. Rutgers comes into this game favored, the first time since 2014 they have been favored in a B1G game. The best attribute of the Rutgers offense is the legs of Vedral and the receiving of Cruickshank. The Illini need to bottle up the Scarlet Knights passing attack and force Pacheco to beat them between the tackles. Schiano seems to be throwing all caution to the wind (they have attempted six onside kicks this season already). Schiano is trying hard to quickly install a new culture and expectations from his team and has full buy-in.
Sean Gleeson is one of the best scheme play-callers in college football. The yards and points are not quite where they want to be, but the Scarlet Knights offense is miles above the last few iterations. Gleeson is not afraid of trick plays and exploiting opponents who are not assignment sound.
The Illini offense has two backs both averaging 6.5 YPC. The Scarlet Knights will sell out to stop the Illini rushing attack. The Illini passing attack must take advantage of the openings the Scarlet Knights will provide. After the 6-17 effort against a similar style defense last week, it will be interesting to see if the Illini passing attack can improve and take advantage.
For Illinois to Win:
The defense needs to return to the 2019 form. So far, the Illini defense has been very soft and struggled to stop opponents. The Illini have been allowing too much cushion in the passing game, and not getting enough pass rush with the front four. Lovie has been mixing up the defensive secondary schemes, as well as blitzing more frequently. The Illini defense needs to force Rutgers into turnovers while keeping the offense bottled up.
The Illini offense needs to find a rhythm, and start sustaining drives. Thus far, the Illini are 119th out of 122 teams in offensive points per drive, which is abysmal. The Illini are struggling with overall offensive consistency, and are lacking the big-play offense they showed during the four-game winning streak last year. The good news is that the run game is starting to come together. For Illinois to win, they need the defense to help them out, and the offense to do its part generating points.
For Rutgers to Win:
Gleeson needs to build confidence in Vedral, and unleash the Scarlet Knights passing attack. Thus far, they are completing 66% of their passes, but at 4.6 yards per attempt. Rutgers is planning on some relief on their 3rd down woes against the Illini as well. If Gleeson can figure out a way to break some of the plays shown above, Rutgers should be able to put points on the board.
The Scarlet Knights won their game when they won the turnover battle. If they can keep the turnovers even and keep the offense moving, they win.
These are the two worst offenses in yards per game. The Illini have an advantage in big plays and yards per play. Both of the defenses have a hard time getting off the field, letting opponents run about 70 plays per game. The team that wins the plays category wins this game. In situations like that, I always trust the offense taking on a base package vs. the aggressive package. The real concern is if Rutgers can score enough to cover the spread, this should be a lower scoring affair. This has the hallmarks of a one-score game, but I'll trust the Illini offense to break enough big plays for touchdowns to cover.
YTD Against the Spread: