Big East boasts some of nation’s strongest defensive teams through early part of season

first_img Published on October 10, 2012 at 12:21 am Contact Kevin: [email protected] Last Saturday, Rutgers and Connecticut matched up in a battle of two highly ranked defenses.The outcome followed the statistics. Each team was held to less than 300 yards of total offense, and the game included six turnovers. Rutgers came away with a 19-3 victory.“It was a very physical football game,” Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood said in the Big East coaches’ teleconference on Monday. “Two teams that play very good defense. We were fortunate to run the ball well enough, and create some turnovers to come out on top.”So far in 2012, the Big East has taken the identity as being one of the strongest conferences defensively. Connecticut, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Louisville are all currently ranked in the Top 25 in total defense among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. All Big East teams are ranked in the top 70 of 120 total teams, with Temple ranking lowest at No. 67.With West Virginia (currently No. 102 in total defense) now in the Big 12, the Big East’s defensive identity has continued to take hold on a weekly basis.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“I thought the game against Connecticut was very typical of Big East football,” Flood said.Despite the 16-point margin of victory, Rutgers only outgained Connecticut by 36 yards on Saturday, 280-244. The Huskies notched 17 first downs, same as RU.The Rutgers defense bent on occasion, but it didn’t break. After reflecting on the game, Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni offered a concise declaration.“The Rutgers defense is one of the best defenses in the country,” Pasqualoni said in Monday’s Big East coaches’ teleconference. “There is no question.”When a defense plays as consistently well as Rutgers’ has, it is hard to lose. RU has allowed 13 points or less in four of its five games this season, with the exception being a 35-26 win over Arkansas. The Scarlet Knights allow only 10.8 points per game, good for the fifth best among FBS teams.For Pasqualoni, the Rutgers defense sets up in a way that can wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.“They create a lot of problems with their movement, and their blitzes, and their pressures,” Pasqualoni said. “They play well-coordinated coverage on their back end.”The Huskies rank 21st in scoring defense, allowing an average of 16.17 points per game.And in total defense, Connecticut surpasses Rutgers, ranking sixth in FBS and allowing an average of 248.83 yards per game. Rutgers ranks 15th at 296.8 yards allowed.Temple, coming off a win over South Florida last Saturday in its return to Big East play after an eight-year hiatus, has the challenge of facing Connecticut this week.The Owls put up 37 points on USF, but Temple head coach Steve Addazio knows this number may be harder to duplicate against Pasqualoni and the Huskies.“We’re playing against a team that’s coached by arguably one of the finest coaches, certainly in the conference, maybe in the country,” Addazio said. “They play hard, they’re one of the finest defenses in the conference and they certainly have some real marquee players on their team. Especially on defense.”Many factors help put the Connecticut defense in position to succeed, including Pasqualoni’s background as a defensive coach in college and in the NFL.Considering the Huskies return eight defensive starters, it’s an experienced group all around in Connecticut.“It’s a tremendous defense,” Addazio said. “I think they’re fantastic. Not a lot of people are running the ball real well against them.”The Rutgers defense enjoys leadership across the front as well, giving Flood confidence in his group. Senior linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnias help anchor the back end of the front seven, with each player in his fourth season of seeing significant playing time for Rutgers.Greene and Beauharnias shared the team lead on Saturday with eight tackles apiece, with Greene adding a 33-yard interception return.“I really like their linebackers,” Pasqualoni said. “It’s just a very good linebacker unit. They play well together and they’re very athletic.”Going into the season, Flood felt his defense would need to be strong for RU to contend for the Big East title. An experienced defensive line supports Rutgers’ senior linebackers.“We’re very fortunate that we have leadership at every level,” Flood said. “We felt coming into the year that our defense was going to be a strong point for us, something that we were going to have to lean on.”Syracuse, the Scarlet Knights’ next opponent, has a similar respect for the Rutgers defense.“They play until the whistle blows,” Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone said. “You’re going to have a difficult time when you’re talking about a defense like this.”Not unlike others in the conference.Final meeting for longtime foesWhen Syracuse takes on Rutgers on Saturday (noon, Big East Network), it will mark the end of an era. With Syracuse moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference after this season and Rutgers remaining in the Big East, this could be the last matchup between the two teams for the foreseeable future.For Flood, it’s just a byproduct of the ever-changing college football landscape.“It’s one of those things that’s indicative of the way college football is at this point,” Flood said. “Change has become the new norm.”Big East game of the weekWhen Temple faces Connecticut on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m., ESPN3), the matchup will serve as a reunion between teacher and former student. Owls head coach Steve Addazio worked under Connecticut head coach Paul Pasqualoni for four years, when Addazio coached offensive linemen and tight ends on Pasqualoni’s Syracuse staff from 1995 to 1998.In Temple’s first season in the Big East since 2004, Addazio has guided the Owls to a solid start. Temple is coming off a 37-28 home victory over South Florida last Saturday, a game in which Owls running back Montel Harris rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns.South Florida dropped to 0-2 in conference play with the setback, joining Pittsburgh with two Big East losses. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more