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Big Ten preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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Nebraska Cornhuskers tight end CETHAN CARTER (11) holds on for a touchdown in the end zone during the 3rd quarter of an NCAA football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at High Point Solutions Stadium. (Credit Image: © Mike Langish/CSM via ZUMA Wire)

Nebraska Cornhuskers tight end CETHAN CARTER (11) holds on for a touchdown in the end zone during the 3rd quarter of an NCAA football game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at High Point Solutions Stadium. (Credit Image: © Mike Langish/CSM via ZUMA Wire)

Location: Piscataway, New Jersey

2015 record: 4-8 (1-7 Big Ten)

Head coach: Chris Ash

2016 record so far: 1-1

Record vs. OSU since 2006: 0-2

What’s happened so far in 2016

The Scarlet Knights’ season in the early going has followed the predictions of many. In coach Chris Ash’s first game on Sept. 3, after vacating the role of co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, Rutgers lost to then-No. 14 Washington by a score of 48-13. The Scarlet Knights’ offense was unable to score a touchdown until 5:53 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the defense yielded 287 yards and three scores through the air. Rutgers righted the ship in Week 2, with a 52-14 win against Howard University. Senior wide receiver Janarion Grant scored a kickoff return touchdown and two rushing touchdowns. And junior quarterback Chris Laviano threw for three touchdowns in the win. Rutgers will entertain New Mexico and Iowa at home before facing off with the Buckeyes on Oct. 1 at Ohio Stadium.

Key offensive player

Though the dual threat of junior running backs Josh Hicks and Robert Martin will be important to take pressure off of Laviano, Grant will be counted on for his versatility across the field. Grant will have to be a playmaker for an offense that lost its starting running back Paul James and top receiver Leonte Carroo from a season ago. Grant has looked to be up to the task this year. He leads the team with 133 rushing yards and 80 receiving yards, and also has four of the eight Scarlet Knight touchdowns. His ability to line up at receiver, in the backfield or at the H-back position makes it tough for opposing defenses to know where and how he will get the ball.

Key defensive player

Rutgers will be happy to have fifth-year senior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton back in the starting lineup this year. A former five-star prospect from the historic Don Bosco Prep football program, Hamilton missed all but one game last season with a right knee injury. Named to the preseason Bednarik Award watch list and third-team All-Big Ten team, Hamilton will be looking to improve on his 2014 season in which he led the Rutgers defense with 11.5 tackles for loss and was second with six sacks. His ability to pressure the opposing quarterback and engage multiple offensive lineman will help an inexperienced linebacker group. Though he has started off the season slow with only four tackles, expect Hamilton to be a major force in the remaining games.

Weaknesses

One of Rutgers’ weaknesses this year will be consistently scoring the ball against quality opponents. The Scarlet Knights put up more than 21 points only once over their last six games a year ago, as they faced the top teams in the Big Ten. The ability to score against tougher opponents has been evident this year by only scoring 13 points against Washington. Rutgers will also have to work on a pass defense that allowed 275.9 yards per game through the air last season and starts three sophomores in the secondary.

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