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Quick Lane Bowl Opponent Preview: Rutgers

The Heels look to salvage some respectability in Detroit with the Quick Lane Bowl against Rutgers.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina ends its season with a game against a Rutgers team which finished the season 7-5, going 3-5 in the Big Ten. Rutgers played a very difficult Big Ten Schedule; facing Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State on the road while Penn State and Wisconsin came to New Jersey. Rutgers lost each of those games and only beat two bowl-bound opponents this year, Maryland and Navy. This season Rutgers have lost and won when they're expected to. There is a common trend with Rutgers and their wins, Rutgers have won every game they scored 26 or more points in.

The path to their points is quarterback Gary Nova. Nova acts as a bell-weather for the team, he's thrown 19 touchdowns and two interceptions in wins compared to an abysmal one touchdown and 10 interceptions in losses. Nova tends to throw deeper than the average quarterback, he averages 8.69 yards per attempt, 11th most in the country which is the highest Carolina will have faced all year. This comes at the same time as Carolina allows 8.5 yards per attempt, the seven worst in the nation and the worst of any school in a power conference. In fact the 11 worst schools in the country in terms of yards conceded per attempt are 10 non-power conference flotsam programs and North Carolina. The Scarlet Knights primarily throw to Leonte Carroo who has more than 1000 receiving yards this year and averages 19.7 yards per catch. Carroo recorded 100 yard receiving days against both Nebraska and Ohio State so it will be a very tall task for the Heels to contain him. Carolina fans should expect Rutgers to try a lot of deep balls. Their success on those plays could decide the game.

The Scarlet Knights are a below average team running the football, ranking 89th in FBS. Interestingly, Rutgers are exceptionally similar to Carolina when it comes to running the ball. The Scarlet Knights don't have a back with more than 450 yards on the season. On the season, the Scarlet Knights have only 20 more yards than the Heels. Their offense averages 4.0 yards per carry and have 18 touchdowns on the season. Both of which are slightly below average compared to the rest of the nation. Still, the Scarlet Knights depend on the rush more with 447 attempts versus just 337 passing attempts.

Rutgers' defense leaves much to be desired if you're a Scarlet Knights fan. Rutgers allows 440 yards per game the 31st worst in the nation, (for context the Heels allow 496 yards per game the 11th worst). The weakness of the Rutgers defense is their run defense, Rutgers allows 211.8 yards per game on the ground, the 22nd worst mark in the nation (although again Carolina is worse at 11th in the nation allowing 232.2 yards per game). Against the pass, the Scarlet Knights are 68th in the nation, or right about average. They allow 227.8 yards per game through the air and have a top 30 pass rush. The Heels will have to keep Marquise Williams clean in this game to ensure they can still push the ball down-field through the air.

Bowl Game Assignments:

Make Nova Struggle:

If the Heels can focus Nova into a bad game then this becomes a much easier game for Carolina. If he can get into a rhythm then the Heels will be hard pressed to win this game. The easiest way to limit Nova would be to take away Carroo. The Heels should try to employ bracket coverage on Carroo utilizing a lot of safety help. If the Heels take away Carroo and make Nova look elsewhere this game will become much easier for North Carolina.

Hold Rutgers on Defense:

This season has showed that expecting anything from the Carolina defense is a stretch. However, if Carolina can prevent Rutgers from getting 26 points then recent Rutgers history gives Carolina the win.

Score Early:

Early scores will allow the Heels to run the ball a bit more for the rest of the game and exploit Rutgers where they're weakest. It will also force the Scarlet Knights into more aggressive coverages in the passing game, allowing for Ryan Switzer to do Ryan Switzer things and potentially creating some Mack Hollins deep balls (even though Williams and Hollins haven't connected on one of those in about 4 games).

Bonus Bowl Assignment--Win the Game

This has been a pass/fail assignment for the past few games but its no less important. The Heels need to win this game for a multitude of reasons. Winning their bowl game makes UNC a better sell to recruits (which we all know are needed) and at least keeps the status quo from last season. Whereas a loss signifies a step in the wrong direction heading into a pivotal fourth season for Larry Fedora.