PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers doesn’t need to look at how many sacks (18) fourth-ranked Michigan State has recorded this season. Nor do they need to review the accolades of defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun (two-time second-time All-American, two-time first-team All-Big Ten and 2013 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year).
All the Scarlet Knights need to do to know the caliber of the pass-rush they’re up against in Michigan State is to look at last year’s game film. And they won’t even need to look for that long.
”Last year’s game they had the same D-line. The first play was sack, so you just can’t have the same – you got to start better,” senior left tackle Keith Lumpkin said. ”We started slow in that game. … We just got to be locked in from the start.”
Michigan State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) jumped out to a 35-0 halftime lead en route to the 45-3 drubbing of Rutgers (2-2, 0-1). To avoid a repeat performance on Saturday night, Rutgers knows it has to slow down the Spartans’ pass rush.
That includes Calhoun. And blocking the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder isn’t just the responsibility of one lineman.
Calhoun lines up on both sides. He also is sometimes used as a stand pass-rushing linebacker. No matter where he lines up, it’s Calhoun’s skill-set that jumps out on film.
”He’s sudden, and when I say sudden, he’s got a good get-off,” interim head coach Norries Wilson said. ”He’s long. He can keep the offensive linemen off of him. He uses his hands well, he can get his hips away. He’s got speed and he can turn the corner fast. You put all those things together and he can get up the field and get after people really quickly.”
Calhoun’s primary target this week will be Chris Laviano. And it’s up to the offensive line to make sure he remains upright.
”We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that the quarterback has an opportunity to have a clean launch pad,” Wilson said. ”The backs are going to have to pick up their protection and the offensive line is going to have to strain and try to keep their rushes off of them.”
Rutgers will be doing so with three first year starters on the offensive line in left guard Dorian Miller, center Derrick Nelson and right tackle J.J. Denman.
While the Scarlet Knights have allowed six sacks this season, Laviano has faith in his protection.
”You’ve got to,” Laviano said. ”You can’t play quarterback unless you have trust in the offensive line and vice versa, so we all lean on each other and we’ll be alright.”
One of the best ways to combat a dominant pass rush is a strong running attack. Led by Josh Hicks and his 371 yards, Rutgers is averaging 211 rushing yards per game.
Along with the help of Robert Martin (252 yards) and Paul James (169 yards), a heavy dose of the run is expected from Rutgers.
”That’s our brand of football. That’s what we do,” Miller said. ”Getting the run game is very important to us every week, so it’s definitely a key for us.”
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org