Rutgers excelling at blocking kicks

The foot in football is never more important than when the oldest FBS program is on the field, particularly when its opposition is lining up for a kick or punt.

That was never more evident than in Rutgers' win Saturday over Syracuse, a victory sparked by Jamal Merrell's blocking of a field goal attempt that teammate Duron Harmon returned 75 yards to break open a tied game in the third quarter.

The block was the Scarlet Knights' 27th since the 2009 season, the most in the nation, and it was their 11th score off a block in that time frame.

Head coach Kyle Flood credits the work of his program's former and current special-teams coaches, Robb Smith (now defensive coordinator) and Joe Rossi, for the stream of big plays.

"They've done a tremendous job, and I think the other part of that is our players believe in it," Flood said during Monday's Big East coaches teleconference. "Our players truly believe that special teams can change the game and have an effect on the outcome and not be a way to just kind of pass the ball back and forth from one team to another."

The momentum and points generated from such plays have given life to a team that has often been stagnant on offense this season, particularly in a game like last weekend's, when Rutgers won despite being out-gained by nearly 200 yards.

Rutgers has blocked four kicks this season, also scoring on a Week 2 punt attempt that Miles Shuler blocked and Brandon Jones rushed in from 6 yards out.

"I think philosophically some teams are more return-oriented, and that's their philosophy," Flood said. "Our philosophy here has always been to block the kicks, and I think what it comes down to is just relentless effort, because you may have five opportunities in a given game -- you may not get the first four, but you still have to line up on that fifth time as if you're going to get it. And if you do get it, it could change the game.

"So you never know when the opportunity's going to present itself, and we tell the players every time: 'You've got to come off the ball as if you're the guy who's going to block it.'"

Temple, which hosts Rutgers this weekend, has blocked fourth-quarter field goal attempts in each of its last two games and is also looking to get to 3-0 in conference play.

Coach Steve Addazio has had success with a similar blueprint to Rutgers on both sides of the ball, so he knows the game can turn on a big special-teams play.

"The last thing we can do is play on a long field against Rutgers or give them a short field," Addazio said. "So I think special teams will be very, very important for us to have any opportunity to win this game. We've got to do a great job on special teams, both on the offensive and the defensive side."