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Photo credit: Ben Solomon/Rutgers Athletics

Rutgers football keys to victory for season opener against Boston College

When Rutgers football lost to Maryland 40-16 on Nov. 27 last year, it marked the end of another disappointing regular season for the Scarlet Knights as they finished the regular season with a record of 5-7.

Rutgers filled in as a COVID-19 replacement in the Gator Bowl, losing to Wake Forest 38-10. Despite earning a bowl appearance, it was not on the terms that Greg Schiano would have liked.

With a new season comes a new opportunity and a chance for Schiano to right the ship in his third season since returning as Scarlet Knights head coach. His first task of the 2022 season, travel to Newton, Massachusetts, to take on a Boston College squad led by third-year head coach Jeff Hafley.

The Eagles are coming off a season in which they finished with a 6-6. Boston College earned a trip to the Military Bowl against East Carolina, which was postponed due to COVID-19 precautions. Despite the bowl appearance, Boston College finished with an underwhelming 2-6 record in the ACC. Both teams will be looking for bounce-back seasons in 2022.

Here are some keys to victory for the Scarlet Knights as they look to get off on the right note against Boston College.

Establish the Run Early

Last season, the Scarlet Knights averaged 19.7 points per game, a drop off from their 26.7 mark in 2020. It is still unclear who will be under center for Rutgers on Saturday. It could be former top recruit Gavin Wismatt or Noah Vedral again. Regardless, Rutgers will need to prioritize running the football early and often to open up the playbook later in the game.

Junior running back Aaron Young is expected to be the lead back this season. Last year, Young finished with 205 yards and five touchdowns, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. If the Scarlet Knights expect to compete this season, the running back room will have to be more efficient with their carries this year, which starts with Young.

Sophomore Kyle Monangai, who ran for 235 yards and four touchdowns on 3.8 yards per carry, also figures to be a part of the backfield puzzle. It is likely that the two share backfield duties to open the season. The Scarlet Knights will not be afraid to switch to a feature back if one starts to separate themselves as the clear-cut first option.

It could be a long game for Rutgers if they are forced to rely on the arm of Wismatt or Vedral. If the Scarlet Knights expect to get out of Newton with a victory, Monangai and Young will need to move the chains consistently.

Frustrate Phil Jurkovec

In 2020, Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec threw for more than 2500 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions in 10 games. After suffering a hand injury in a 45-28 win over UMass last year, Jurkovec has looked closer to average than his old self. With an entire summer of rehab, Jurkovec appears healthy and ready to go for the Eagles.

The Scarlet Knights will need to bring the pressure early and often on Jurkovec. Last season, Rutgers only registered 23 sacks on the year, and that number will need to rise drastically starting in game one.

During Jurkovec's breakout 2020 campaign, he was pressured in 125 of his 336 pass attempts. In those 125 attempts, Jurkovec completed 70, logging the most under-pressure passing yards in the country with 1,080, 200 more than the second most of 873 by former North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell. Rutgers can not afford to allow Jurkovec to get in a groove on Saturday.

Front 7 Needs to Step Up

After allowing an average of 32.1 points per game in 2020, Rutgers' defense improved to only allow 25.6 last season. They will need to continue to bring that number down even more if they anticipate a successful season and a week one victory.

Teams were running the ball at will last season. The Scarlet Knights only held teams under 100 rushing yards twice, coming in games against Syracuse and Indiana. Ohio St, Michigan St, and Maryland ran for over 200, while Wisconsin rushed for over 300 yards on Rutgers' defense.

If the Scarlet Knights hope for a bounce-back season, the front seven will need to do a better job bottling up opposing running backs in the backfield.

Rutgers will have their work cut out for them to stop the Boston College rushing attack. Eagles junior running back Pat Garwo III ran for over 1,000 yards with seven touchdowns on over five yards per carry.

Game Prediction

Rutgers' success will hinge mainly on quarterback play, whether that be Vedral or Wismatt. The Scarlet Knights are looking at a hugely important game from the jump for their bowl game chances, but Garwo and Jurkovec will prove too much for a poor Rutgers defense to handle on the road. Boston College will win this one by two possessions, handing Rutgers an 0-1 start to the 2022 football season.

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