Kansas returns home fresh off a road win for the first time in literally nine years. They’ll be facing a Rutgers program that, in my opinion, has a similar feel to what Kansas has going on right now. Basically, the short version is they have a bad offense with a mediocre to decent to maybe good defense.
Rutgers returned 81% of its production on defense from 2017, so much like KU, their defense is loaded with experience. Whether that experience is good or bad is always the question here. Additionally, you have to consider that they don’t have Clint Bowen coordinating their D, which if we’re honest is probably a plus for Rutgers.
Rutgers is a run-heavy team on offense. Although their splits so far in 2018 - 59 passing plays to 77 rushing plays - is 57/43 run/pass, the Knights definitely want to move the ball on the ground. In 2017, Rutgers ran the ball 61% of the time and only had one WR with more than 170 yards receiving on the entire season.
vs Texas State, W, 35-7
at Ohio State, L, 52-3
How they Rank
Following the conclusion of all the games from Week 2, Kansas is ranked #105 overall in S&P+ (out of 130). However, the offense is rated #127, while the defense is #38. I guess that’s what six turnovers in one game will do for you.
Rutgers is ranked just four spots ahead of KU at #101 overall. Their offense is rated #116 and their defense is rated #52, despite the 52-3 disaster at Ohio State last week.
The S&P+ prediction gives the Jayhawks just over a 1-point edge, with a predicted score of 18.7-17.3.
Players to Watch
True freshman Artur Sitkowski came in and won the starting quarterback job in fall camp. Sitkowski came to Rutgers as a three-star recruit per Rivals and 247Sports with a long list of suitors that included schools like Miami FL, BC, UF, LSU. So far this season, he has completed 26-47 (55.3%) of his passes for 243 yards, with just 1 TD to 4 INTs.
Sitkowski got banged up in the Ohio State game last week and has reportedly been limited in practice all week this week with an injury to his throwing arm or shoulder. It is anticipated he will start and play but is said to be “day-to-day.”
If Sitkowski cannot go or get hurt again, senior QB Giovanni Rescigno will take over. Rescigno split time at QB last year, and would be a capable backup.
When they do throw, Rutgers will spread the ball around to several receivers, but have three backs averaging over 4.0 yards per carry so far in 2018: Jon Hilliman (22-90-4.1), Isaih Pacheco (21-97-4.6), and Raheem Blackshear (21-93-4.4). Blackshear also happens to be Rutgers’ leading receiver so far in 2018.
As for defense, Trevor Morris is their star LB, and racked up 11 tackles against Ohio State along with a sack. (Morris missed the Texas State game.) Other names to keep an eye on are defensive linemen Elorm Lumor, Kevin Wilkins, and Jon Bateky, who will try to exploit a KU offensive line that has looked very exploitable over the first two weeks of the year.
Keys to the Game
- Pressure! Kansas MUST get in the backfield, disrupt the Rutgers run game, and pressure the true freshman at QB. Not only that, but there is pressure everywhere in this game. Forget about the hot seat under David Beaty for a moment. Rutgers doesn’t want to be the team that lost to KANSAS, while the Jayhawks surely want to make Todd Reesing Ring of Honor Day a memorable one.
- Make them pass. (You could also say, stop the run.) If the Jayhawks can make Rutgers one-dimensional the way they did Central Michigan, the RU quarterback(s) will eventually throw the ball to the wrong color jersey. And if this game is as close as I think it will be, a couple of turnovers will make all of the difference. This could be a big day for Corione Harris, but Dineen, Loneker, and Torneden need to be assignment-sound and not miss very many tackles.
- Pooka Williams. The four-star recruit broke out in a big way in his first college game last week, setting Kansas twitter abuzz. He’s the first freshman at Kansas to rush for 100+ yards in his college debut since James Sims, and if he can duplicate that effort against Rutgers, it should open up opportunities in the passing game for whichever quarterback KU has on the field.
All signs point to a 19-16 game, something with a lot of field goals and three-and-outs. Obviously, that means that it will end up being a 48-45 shootout, right?
Flip a coin on this one. In my estimation the teams seem to be pretty evenly matched. I think Kansas has the edge on talent, but Rutgers will have the edge on coaching. If David Beaty punts on 4th-and-1 from midfield again, I swear...
Ugh. Anyway. My original prediction back in August was a 21-17 Rutgers win. My new prediction is a 24-23 Kansas win. I’m drinking the kool-aid one more time and I’m sticking with my new prediction. I get the feeling that the Rutgers fanbase is desperate to avoid the shame of losing to Kansas - which is understandable, I get that.
But I think the KU defense matches up well against Rutgers’ offense, and the addition of Pooka Williams to the KU offense should open some things up there. A couple of big plays on offense combined with a couple of turnovers on defense could make for a boring game at times, but it should equal a Kansas victory on Todd Reesing Ring of Honor Day.