MORGANTOWN - Greg Schiano would like nothing more than to execute the same defensive game plan against West Virginia this weekend that Syracuse used in throttling the Mountaineer offense last Friday.
He would seem to have the right tools in place to do so, too. His Rutgers football team is sixth in the nation in sacks, so putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks is obviously something the Scarlet Knights can do.
But then there's Rutgers' performance last weekend against Louisville to consider. At the same time Syracuse was harassing WVU quarterback Geno Smith - sacking him four times and pressuring him on almost every down - during a 49-23 rout, Schiano's pass rush was a no-show at Louisville. Even with a freshman quarterback behind center, Louisville didn't allow a sack and had precious few pressures.
"They got rid of the ball. They threw a lot of three-step and quick-five [drops] and they took their shots,'' Schiano said of Louisville, which beat Rutgers 16-14. "They threw a lot of fades and connected on a few of them. They were not going to allow themselves to get sacked. I thought it was an excellent plan.''
If only West Virginia could have executed similarly against Syracuse.
Which raises the question of this week. The No. 25 Mountaineers (5-2, 1-1 Big East) face Rutgers (5-2, 2-1) in a 3:30 p.m. game at High Point Solutions Stadium, and there seems no question the Knight will try to make Smith just as uncomfortable then as he was at the Carrier Dome.
Schiano knows the balance of the outcome probably rests with his team's ability to do that. If the Knights can't, West Virginia will probably score as often as necessary, regardless of how many points its defense surrenders.
"I think it's critical,'' Schiano said. "It's not only the sacks, it's the hits and the quarterback pressures you get in addition to the sacks. Sacks aren't always the most important thing.
"The kid at Louisville, [Teddy] Bridgewater, did a nice job of throwing the ball and not taking the big hit too many times. When you watch the Syracuse tape they did a very good job of hitting the quarterback in the West Virginia game.''
Bridgewater wasn't able to do a lot of damage throwing the football - just 122 yards on 10-of-18 passing - but that's not the point. Louisville wasn't put into bad situations because Bridgewater wasn't being harassed, and so Rutgers never gained any momentum.
If Smith is allowed time in the pocket he will pick Rutgers apart. But there is more to playing defense against the Mountaineers than just rushing the passer.
"It's always important, but when you have a great quarterback like Geno Smith, that's only one element,'' Schiano said. "You better mix up your coverages, you better mix up your looks. You're not just going to get him through [pressure]. He's one of the top quarterbacks in America and we really have to be on our game to have any chance of slowing them down.''