Opponent Analysis: Rutgers Scarlet Knights — 2021 Syracuse Football preview

Rutgers Football Head Coach Greg Schiano
Rutgers Football Head Coach Greg Schiano rejoins the team and speaks to reporters, fans, and players at his first Rutgers press conference since 2011. Photo Credit: Benjamin Chelnitsky - The Daily Targum.

As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team opponent preview each week over the summer. This week, we’re previewing Syracuse’s matchup with Rutgers on Sept. 11 with three major storylines.

Can Schiano Continue Building On Early Success

Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano had an unenviable task when he took over at the start of last season. The Scarlet Knights had lost 21 straight Big Ten games and were one of the worst football teams in the NCAA. On top of that, the Covid-19 pandemic posed a unique challenge for every coach, much less one in his first year in the program.

With that context in mind, a 3-6 record with all three wins coming against Big 10 teams- Michigan State, Maryland, and Purdue- qualifies as a strong start for Schiano. The coach is noted for his tough “toes on the line” coaching style and had the Scarlet Knights playing games down to the wire. Count on that to continue and only be improved upon in the upcoming season.

His time coaching in college (Miami DC, Rutgers HC, Ohio State DC) and the NFL (Buccaneers HC) is having a noted impact both on recruiting, in the locker room, and on the field on Saturdays.

Three Key Returning Players Look To Improve

Through all of Rutgers’ struggles to become a competitive team in 2020, three players in particular made names for themselves and are poised for even more success in their second year under Schiano.

Noah Vedral came in as a transfer from Nebraska and provided some stability at the QB position. He made a statement in his first game, beating Michigan State to open the year, and continued to play well. He’ll have to take a bigger leap to win more than three games this year, but the talent is there to do just that.

Bo Melton was Rutgers’ offense last year with 942 all-purpose yards and nine total TDs (six receiving, two rushing, and one punt return). He’s easily the best weapon the Scarlet Knights have and his workload should only be increased this year.

Olakunle Fatukasi is the heart and soul of Rutgers defense and Schiano knows just how to use him. He’s a tackle machine, leading the Big Ten with 101 tackles in just nine games and tying for second with 11 tackles-for-loss. With only three sacks last year, he’ll have to finish getting to the quarterback more in 2021, and looks poised to do so.

» Related: How does realignment 3.0 affect Syracuse and the ACC?

Special Teams Could Be The Wildcard For Rutgers

In today’s NCAA, you have to win any way that you can, and Rutgers has a clear advantage within the Big Ten in their return game. Their electric kick return specialist Aron Cruickshank quietly tied for the most kickoff return touchdowns in the country last year with two, as well as ranking fourth nationally with 671 return yards. Bo Melton was also a dangerous returner, with 235 combined return yards and a punt return touchdown.

Both of those players are on the depth chart as wide receivers. With Schiano getting the most out of his talent and putting speedy receivers back to return kicks, they’ll continue to give the offense help as it develops throughout the year. If they can get the elite production out of this unit that they got last year, it should be more than enough to help Rutgers pass their previous win total.

For more Syracuse coverage, Like our Facebook page, follow us @TheJuiceOnline and listen to our podcast.

About Rutger Sears 25 Articles
Rutger is a freelance writer and as a Syracuse native, has an affinity for all Syracuse University Athletics. From Donovan McNabb to Mike Powell, Rutger has seen greatness in many forms don an Orange uniform over the last 30 years. He currently covers Orange lacrosse.