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Scarlet Knights live on turnovers

MORGANTOWN - Rutgers football Coach Greg Schiano decided to call plays again on defense this season and has the Scarlet Knights ranked sixth nationally in sacks per game.

They average 3.43 per game and have 24 this season, but were blanked in Friday's loss at Louisville.

"I thought they did an excellent job," Schiano said. "They got rid of the ball quick and did a lot of three-step, quick-five (step) game. They took their shots. They threw a lot of fades and connected on a few of them, but they weren't going to let themselves get sacked. I thought it was an excellent plan."

It was the second time this season Rutgers (5-2, 2-1 Big East) played without a sack. Both games were losses. Rutgers plays host to No. 25 West Virginia (5-2, 1-1) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (WCHS telecast) in the first game for the Mountaineers after Syracuse sacked WVU's Geno Smith four times in Friday's 49-23 win.

"I think it's critical," Schiano said.

"It's not only the pressure, it's the hits and the quarterback pressures you get in addition to the sacks. Sacks aren't always the most important thing.

I think the Louisville kid did a nice job throwing the ball and not taking too many hits. You watch the Syracuse tape, they did a very good job hitting the quarterback. That's what's most important."

The Scarlet Knights have forced mistakes with the hits and the threat of hits. After forcing just 22 turnovers last season, Rutgers has forced 25 already this season, most in the country. The 15 interceptions are also tied for the national lead and Rutgers is No. 5 nationally in turnover margin.

The Scarlet Knights led the country before finishing minus-two in the loss to the Cardinals.

In addition to the sacks, Smith was hit on one of his two interceptions. The constant pressure disrupted WVU's passing game.

"Syracuse blitzed, shoot, 75 percent of the time, which is more than I've ever been a part of, and we didn't handle it for a variety of reasons," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "The quarterback and receivers didn't do the best job with the quarterback seeing stuff and the receivers making sight adjustments.

"I think we were targeted pretty good up front. There weren't just three people coming, unless they were out-manning us, but even with that said, when they were bringing five, our guys didn't hold up in pass protection, which was discouraging."

Syracuse physically and mentally challenged WVU's protection. Holgorsen said the Orange used a variety of blitzes and 16 of the first 24 were different. He also knows Rutgers will be similarly aggressive.

"We know what we're they're going to do," he said. "They're going to pressure us. We need to handle it better. A week of practice should probably be enough to get us to the point where we can handle it better."

Rutgers will practice, too, and leads the Big East in seven defensive categories, including scoring, pass defense and pass efficiency defense. All but two of the sacks have come at home. The Scarlet Knight at home against North Carolina Central, six against Pitt and four against Navy and its option offense.

Not coincidentally, Rutgers is 4-0 at High Point Solutions Stadium by an average score of 35-14.

"Being at home and having the crowd work with you is always a big thing that a lot of people don't pay attention to or don't thin can be applied to or doesn't have a role with the defense," linebacker Khaseem Green said. "But on defense, having that crowd and the effect it has getting the fans going, things like that cause mistakes with the cadence and communications and all of that has to do with momentum. Everything that goes with playing at home definitely helps you play better defense and get better pressure."

Schiano called the plays on defense in 2005-07 when Rutgers was 26-12 overall and 12-9 in the Big East and the Scarlet Knights were always good at making plays in the backfield. In 2005-07, they were sixth, 12th and fifth in sacks per game and tied for 11th, 20th and fifth in sacks.

Rutgers is tied for 11th with 7.86 tackles for a loss this season, thanks in large part to changes on defense, most notably moving Green from safety. He's tied for 26th with 9.43 tackles per game and leads the team with 66 tackles - almost double the 37 linebacker Steve Beauharnais has in second place.

"Kind of the philosophy that I've adopted as a defensive coach is that you build it on speed," Schiano said. "You'd like to have speed that has size, but until you can get the size with the speed, then we choose speed.  We're getting bigger and remaining fast.  We moved some guys down, which I think has made us faster."

The Scarlet Knights have 55 tackles for a loss to go with the two dozen sacks, but 251/2 of the tackles for a loss and half the sacks come from a defensive like that makes plays as well as it creates plays for others. Scott Vallone and Justin Francis have 27 tackles apiece. Francis leads the team with 41/2 sacks and adds seven tackles for a loss. Vallone has 21/2 and 51/2.

"Our defensive line is special," Green said. "Those guys are tough guys up front. Obviously they keep the offensive linemen off the linebackers, but they put really good pressure on the quarterback. Those guys up front make the defense go. The one thing we take pride in is that we have a solid defensive line and we have depth to it. The pressure those guys get on the quarterback and in the backfield goes a long way to our overall success every game."

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THE NOV. 5 Louisville-WVU game at Mountaineer Field was announced Monday as a noon telecast by the Big East Network ... Receiver Stedman Bailey, who extended his school record with a fifth straight 100-yard receiving game Friday, made the Big East's weekly honor roll. Bailey caught seven passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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