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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Rutgers' Tejay Johnson comes full circle in second impactful meeting with Louisville

By Tyler Barto
Twitter: @Tyler_Barto

Tejay Johnson sounds like a football purist Tuesday after Rutgers' practice inside its team bubble. The sophomore safety almost sounds like he's lamenting the changing tides of the college football landscape toward spread offense.

He talks about Louisville, Rutgers' opponent Thursday night on ESPN, as football returning to its offensive roots. While neither may be particularly true, the Scarlet Knights have gotten their fill of three- and four-receiver sets through more than a quarter of the season.

A matchup with the No. 8 Cardinals promises a diversion in some cases.

"We like the type of offense they have," Johnson said. "It's basically our offense. It's more traditional, it's not the spread. Basically it is what we like to do — mano y mano. We're coming at them, they're coming at us."

MORE: Charting 83 of Rutgers' offensive plays against SMU

Jamal Merrell's return from a kidney injury aids Johnson's bravado. Johnson, at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, says he played what equates to strongside linebacker Saturday at SMU. Quentin Gause, a bulkier reserve, filled in two weeks ago against Arkansas.

Jamal Merrell's return moves Tejay Johnson to his natural safety position. (AP file photo)

Merrell's 6-foot-4 frame complements Rutgers best against the run or pass.

"Now we feel complete," Johnson said.

Johnson made his defensive debut against Louisville last season, in which a BCS berth caromed out of Rutgers' grasp. He relieved  injured nickel corner Brandon Jones late in the fourth quarter. 

["It is what we like to do — mano y mano. We're coming at them, they're coming at us." — Tejay Johnson]

MORE: Rutgers says Teddy Bridgewater won't affect its defensive plans

Now he'll play as important a role in pass defense as any member of Rutgers' struggling secondary.

"It's big. I feel like I have an opportunity to be a game-changer," Johnson said. "Being in this type of game, this type of atmosphere, against a team of this caliber is going to be a great test for our team. 

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