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Defense Shuts Down Run, Passing Attack In WSU On The Horizon

Senior linebacker Quentin Gause with his teammates - Juan Martinez, Double G Sports

Senior linebacker Quentin Gause with his teammates – Juan Martinez, Double G Sports

All eyes were on the quarterbacks and the offense yesterday as Rutgers opened the season with a 63-13 victory against Division I-AA’s Norfolk State, and rightfully so. However, despite an expected easy win over lower level competition, one statistic still jumps out – minus three yards rushing for the Spartans.

In 2014, Rutgers finished last in the Big Ten Conference, and No. 106 in the country in rushing yards given up with 2,760. Much of that had to do with going against four running backs who were taken in the 2015 NFL Draft, and one whose team won the College Football National Championship.

But, the Scarlet Knights front seven, and even the secondary proved to be too much for Norfolk State as the negative rush yard total indicates. Whether it was just bigger size, talent differential, preparation, or all three, senior, and captain linebacker Quentin Gause talked about how the unit faired and the main philosophies of the defense.

“We did a real good job today,” the strong side linebacker Gause said to me after the game. “Our (philosophies are) stop the run, make big plays, and create takeaways, and we did a fantastic job of that today.”

Redshirt junior defensive tackle Julian Pinnix-Odrick echoed that sentiment.

“I think we did a great job,” the 6-foot-5, 275-pounder said. “Obviously there are things that you want to tighten up in that regard, but I think we did a great job.”

Julian Pinnix-Odrick (Jeff Auger - Double G Media)

Julian Pinnix-Odrick (Jeff Auger – Double G Media)

With the arrests of five players Thursday, and their dismissals from the team Saturday, four of them were members of the defense, particularly the secondary. Cornerbacks Nadir Barnwell, Ruhaan Peele, and Dre Boggs were all atop the depth chart. Delon Stephenson was set to start at free safety.

True freshman Blessuan Austin and redshirt freshman Isaiah Wharton were thrusted into starting roles at corner, each earning their first career starts and playing time. Their backups, both true freshmen, Jarius Adams and Ronnie James, each earned their first playing time as well. Junior Anthony Cioffi moved from corner to free safety in the spring and got the start in place of Stephenson.

As expected, it didn’t come without growing pains. Norfolk State quarterback Greg Hankerson went 3-4 passing on their opening drive, completing passes for 32 yards, 27 yards, and a 16 yard touchdown that looked way too easy. He finished the game 18-28 for 199 yards and two touchdowns with an interception by Cioffi.

Gause said they had to get the jitters out and they seemed to settle down after that first drive and adjusted. Gause also said taking in all the information that you see and hear is key, especially with a pass-happy team coming up next week in Washington State.

“They had to get their feet wet,” Gause said. “[They need to] continue to work on the small details, watch film, and get better, because we have to go against this passing attack next week, and they’re definitely getting a jump start tonight.”

The Cougars a year ago, with quarterback Connor Halliday, completed 40-of-52 passes for 532 yards and five touchdowns against the Scarlet Knights. The Knights definitely know what they’re in for, even if Halliday is no longer around. Washington State lost to Portland State in their opener, and their quarterbacks combined for 45 passes, completing 28 of them for 307 yards and two touchdowns. With that volume of passes, it could mean doomsday for the Rutgers secondary, but that’s why getting pressure on the quarterback and making them uncomfortable can help out the corners and safeties.

“It’s important,” said Gause, who had three tackles and a sack against Norfolk State. “It’s just like as a linebacker and the line is doing their job, it helps us out, so when we’re doing our job, it helps (the secondary) out.”

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