Rutgers didn’t make many lasting impressions defensively in its inaugural season in the Big Ten Conference.
Allowing 30.2 points per game and ranking 13th in the conference in total defense, surrendering 443 yards per game, it’s easy to understand why the Scarlet Knights were trampled by the Big Ten’s herd of dominant powers. In games against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State, Rutgers was outscored by a score of 138-20, giving up an average of 496.7 yards in those three games.
But hidden behind all the staggeringly poor numbers was a glimmer of light. It’s an area on the woeful Rutgers defense that could be the foundation for a successful campaign in the second year of its new league.
The defensive line finished the 2014 ranked fourth in the conference in sacks, reaching the quarterback 33 times in the year.
With a portion of its major contributors returning this fall, the Scarlet Knights could house one of the most opportunistic front lines in the Big Ten.
The sentiment may seem unprecedented for a group that allowed 212.3 yards per game on the ground a season ago. It was often undersized against its offensive counterparts and was frequently pushed around by the brutes of the Big Ten.
But what this unit lacked in stature it made up for in speed and athleticism.
Defensive end Kemoko Turay led the Knights in sacks a season ago, totaling 7.5 in a sensational first season in Piscataway, earning Freshman All-American honors at the end of the year. Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton wasn’t far behind, finishing with six sacks and leading the team with 11.5 tackles for loss.
As both players are expected to take on more responsibility on the line this season the expectation is that the Turay, Hamilton combination creates a dynamic one-two punch for coach Kyle Flood’s defense next season.
Djwaney Mera, who started at defensive end in all 13 contests a season ago, should also be a major force on the line for the Knights.
Quanzell Lambert, Julian Pinnix-Odrick and Sebastian Joseph all saw field time last season but are expected to become more productive members of the Rutgers defense in 2015.
Size will still be a major obstacle for this defense particularly in a conference that has survived on the ground for the better part of a decade. The athleticism and experience that Rutgers has on the front line, however, could be the perfect antidote for an undermanned group.
With Turay, Hamilton and Mera leading the way, Rutgers presents the perfect combination of strength, athleticism and experience. And while that may not be the typical recipe for maneuvering around burly Big Ten linemen, it helped Rutgers finish in the top third in the conference in sacks.
This Rutgers defensive line is already one of the most under-appreciated units in the Big Ten but has the potential to be the team’s most prominent group.
For the Scarlet Knights’ defensive front, the sky is the limit if it can master how to shut down its opponents on the ground.