Rutgers sees big opportunity vs. Arkansas

When Rutgers announced it had scheduled Arkansas for a home-and-home series, it appeared as if the game this season would be a huge one for the Scarlet Knights.

Arkansas would no doubt go into the season as a Top 10 team, with a big-time quarterback in Tyler Wilson and big-time coach in Bobby Petrino leading the way.

Then the incident with the motorcycle happened.

Then Petrino was fired.

Then the season started, and No. 8 Arkansas lost to ULM in Week 2.

Then No. 1 Alabama smoked the unranked Hogs 52-0 last week.

Then Wilson -- forced to sit out the game with concussion symptoms -- called an impromptu postgame news conference and accused his teammates of quitting.

You can see how Fayetteville has turned into dysfunction junction, and how this game has lost a lot of its luster from a national perspective. Certainly, this is a big game for Rutgers and the Big East, a league that rarely gets an opportunity to go into the heart of SEC country.

But beating an unranked team with a losing record does not do as much to pump up the national perception of Rutgers or the Big East. After all, a Sun Belt team has already been there, done that. A victory for the Scarlet Knights (3-0) probably ends up just piling more dirt on an Arkansas team that is reeling.

"I think you guys in the media are more aware of [the perception] than us as coaches," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said this week. "We live in a bubble in our facilities and in dark rooms game planning. This game is not lost on us in any way."

Arkansas seems to be a team that has quickly unraveled, full of division and discord. But you will not get anybody at Rutgers to say Arkansas is down and ripe to lose a third straight.

"This is an extremely talented football team," Flood said. "I don’t think the record and their scores are indicative of what they can do. I really believe every week and every game is a unique and independent event. Every week, the matchups change, the schemes changes. I think this week is the same. I don’t think the records, ours being 3-0 and theirs being 1-2 will have any effect on the outcome of this game."

Flood said this week his team was preparing as if Wilson would play. But there are no guarantees on that, as Wilson recovers from a concussion. If he does play, Arkansas has a big advantage in its pass game. Its receivers would also have a size advantage on the strong Rutgers cornerbacks.

But without Wilson leading the way, the Hogs have looked in disarray on offense. Arkansas cannot run the football, not even with Knile Davis back. Quarterback Brandon Allen has thrown for a combined 145 yards since replacing Wilson against ULM.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas defense has given up an average of 36.7 points a game and has done nothing in the way of stopping anyone. Whether Wilson plays or not, Rutgers will follow the same game plan it has relied on for the first three weeks of the season: hand off to Jawan Jamison, play ball control, have Gary Nova manage the game and rely on the defense to continue to play well.

It is that defense that has led Rutgers to its first three wins of the season, and has an opportunity to show the country that it deserves some recognition.

"We’re not going down there to showcase, we’re going down there to get the win," Rutgers defensive tackle Scott Vallone said. "That’s the bottom line, point blank."