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Is Rutgers the real deal? Q&A with On the Banks as No. 17 Indiana gets set to face the Scarlet Knights

Indiana has defeated Rutgers by a combined score of 100 to 17 over the last three seasons.

Coming off a win over former No. 8 Penn State, the Scarlet Knights should be an easy tune up for Michigan next week.  Right?

In the immortal words of former IU head coach Lee Corso — “No so fast my friend.”

The Scarlet Knights are coming off a major upset win of their own, a 38-27 stunner over Michigan State in East Lansing.

With a new head coach, new personnel, and new schemes on both sides of the ball, this isn’t your father’s Rutgers.

For insights into the new-look Scarlet Knights we turned to Aaron Breitman, managing editor of On the Banks for a Q&A session.

(Note:  To read our Q&A with On the Banks with thoughts about Indiana, GO HERE)

1. Is it too soon to believe that new head coach Greg Schiano has already turned this program around?

There is a long way to go and it’s something Schiano was quick to point out after the win over Michigan State.

The talent and depth of the roster is not where it needs to be for Rutgers to compete against the top teams in the Big Ten. However, the win over Michigan State was extremely encouraging and should give recruiting a legitimate boost. I think it’s fair to say the victory has sped up the potential timeline for the rebuild, but it was just one game.

Things that Schiano and his staff have made immediate improvements on is the culture and mindset within the program, a change in focus on speed instead of size and strength within the conditioning program, overall preparation and game planning. The coaching staff is arguably the best the program has ever had and it’s obvious they are tailoring their plans that best fit the current personnel.

Aside from Michigan and Ohio State, Rutgers should be competitive in every other game this season. That alone would mark major progress in Schiano’s first season. Hope is alive and well for the first time in a long time.

See also:  Schiano talks Indiana (video)

2. Why was Schiano able to be so successful during his first stint, and is that repeatable in the Big Ten East?

He was able to tap into a traditionally strong recruiting pool in New Jersey in a way no Rutgers coach had done before or since. He established strong relationships with high school coaches across the state which is part of why bringing him back made so much sense.

Another part of his success was identifying players that were right for his program and developing players that were under recruited. Two great examples of that are Jason and Devin McCourty, who were 2 star recruits that have gone on to long and successful NFL careers.

Schiano also established an identity for Rutgers football that they desperately needed. He helped brand the block R and shaped the culture with the “Chop” mantra.

3. What stands out as the major differences schematically on both sides of the ball after week one?

The spread offense implemented by Sean Gleeson is a significant change. Rutgers has had 11 different offensive coordinators in the previous 11 seasons, so establishing a system long term is essential for progress to be made. Gleeson had success at Princeton and Oklahoma State previously and does a good job of putting the players he has in positions to succeed. He has made a point to make the offense more up tempo and fast paced.

The offensive line is a weak spot but they performed well last week in part due to the play calling. Making quick passes and having a mobile quarterback are key changes. They had three players have 4 or more receptions in the opener, which is something that rarely happened in previous years. Keep in mind Rutgers scored five touchdowns last week and although some of that was aided by the defense forcing seven turnovers, the offense scored just six touchdowns in nine Big Ten games last season.

On the defensive side, it’s less of a schematic change versus an entirely new mentality. Swarm and strip is the new way, and that was exactly what Schiano implemented in his first tenure at Rutgers. They only had seven takeaways in nine Big Ten games last season, but equaled that in just one game already.

The defense under former head coach Chris Ash had a much more passive approach in addition to his quarters scheme. Schiano’s defenses at Rutgers were known for being aggressive with multiple blitzes and mixing up coverages play to play. He has also prioritized speed over size along the defensive line and that was something that was evident once again in the win over Michigan State. Many players on defense looked trimmed down and more cut compared to last season.

As for special teams, Rutgers led the nation over a period of years in blocked kicks during Schiano’s tenure, so expect that aggressive mentality to return. Another key change is the addition of All-Big Ten performer Aron Cruickshank, who returned two kicks last season at Wisconsin and should greatly improve Rutgers’ return game after they averaged less than 20 yards a return the previous three years.

4. Who are some of the new players that weren’t around last year that you expect to be big difference makers?

Schiano has added several transfers from power five programs that have made an immediate impact.

Four players who are starting came from other Big Ten schools, including quarterback Noah Vedral (Nebraska), Aron Cruickshank (Wisconsin) defensive lineman Michael Dwumfour (Michigan),and safety Brendon White (Ohio State). All were positive factors in the win over Michigan State and should be key players all season and beyond.

While each had varying success at their previous stops, they all come with legitimate experience and were not bottom of the roster type transfers. Improving the front line talent was a must to be competitive this season and those four are instrumental in ushering that change. Tight end Jovani Haskins transferred from West Virginia was an all Big XII selection two seasons ago and should make an impact as well.

One true freshman who shined on Saturday was defensive back Max Melton, who made six tackles including a few key stops that prevented bigger plays from occurring. He was a former Purdue commit that ultimately chose to stay home in New Jersey and play with his brother Bo, the best receiver on the team.

5. Prediction for the game?

I think it will be a close, hard fought game. Even though Rutgers has lost four straight against Indiana, they lost by just one score the last two times the Hoosiers came to Piscataway. Those two Rutgers teams only won three games combined, so they can be competitive on Saturday against an even better Indiana team.

A key is the Rutgers defense generating pressure on Michael Penix Jr. and forcing the Indiana offense into mistakes. Sustaining drives and getting off to a good start offensively is key as well. I do think Indiana is the better team and ultimately wins it, but I expect a tough game that shows Rutgers is continuing on the right path.

Indiana 24 Rutgers 17.

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