After a sometimes shaky performance in their 24-3 win last week against Southern Miss, the Razorbacks hit the road to face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-1). The 2:30 kickoff will be televised by ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU.
The mood was definitely subdued Saturday when Brandon Allen exited with a shoulder injury after scoring the Hogs first touchdown. Backup A.J. Derby’s relief appearance did not inspire anyone, as the Hogs hesitated to call pass plays (6 attempts) the rest of the way.
Allen’s injury is listed as a ‘bruised AC joint’, and there are reports that he may be unable to go Saturday. We’ll track his progress as the week unfolds. Running backs Jonathan Williams (116 RuYds, TD) and Alex Collins (115 RuYds, TD) took up the slack again vs. USM.
Back in the summer, we thought this Rutgers game would be more than just an early season road contest. It’s very likely it could be the swing game for the Hogs between five and six wins.
RU is coached by Kyle Flood (11-5, 2nd Year) who has been at the school since 2007 as an assistant, and now as the head coach. Former Kansas State head coach Ron Prince (2006-2008) serves as the offensive coordinator.
The Scarlet Knights return only 10 starters this year from a team that finished 9-4 in 2012. Their 2012 35-26 win in Fayetteville made it clear how competitive the Hogs would be the rest of the way.
On offense, Rutgers returns quarterback Gary Nova (542 PaYds, 6TDs in 2013) as well as 6-6 All-American candidate Brandon Coleman (10TDs in 2012) at wide receiver. Both torched the Razorbacks last year, as Nova tossed for career highs (397 PaYds and 5TDs), while Coleman caught six for 89 yards and 2 TDs.
Nova however was injured in the first quarter in last week’s 28-10 win over Eastern Michigan. Two helmet-to-helmet hits knocked out the senior, and his availability this week vs. the Hogs is uncertain.
“Gary has a concussion,” Flood said. I have not spoken to the doctors today. They’re going to see Gary when he comes in here in a little bit and reevaluate it. These things can span a wide spectrum from a day or two and be back to playing again to missing weeks. I’m not sure exactly what part of the spectrum we’re on but should have a better idea probably by tomorrow [Monday].”
Without Nova, backup quarterback Chas Dodd was ineffective, completing only 4-9 passing for 45 yards. Sound familiar? Razorback backup Derby was 4-6 for 36 yards last week in relief of Allen. Dodd though has started 15 games in his career during his frosh and sophomore seasons. He lost the starting job to Nova in 2011.
Coleman, who’s size makes him a tough target to defend in the red zone, decided to return for one more year with Nova and is hoping a healthy season will boost his draft stock for 2014.
On defense, though, it’s a different story. Only four starters return as the Scarlet Knights find themselves starting over a bit. Stud linebacker Khaseem Greene is gone to the NFL — drafted in the 4th round by the Bears.
In fact, Rutgers had 5 players off that defense get drafted: two linebackers and three from the secondary. Running out of a 4-3 base, they do not look the same on ‘D’ this year as evidenced by giving up 52 points in their season opening loss at Fresno State.
This might be the most important game of the season. If the Hogs are to have a legitimate shot at a bowl, this road trip to New Jersey might be the one that swings the pendulum for Bielema’s first squad. If called upon, can the Hogs win with A.J. Derby?
Extended weather forecasts call for a 40% chance of rain and highs in the upper 70s. The game is currently ‘OFF the board’ in Vegas due to injuries to both QBs.