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Rutgers at Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse: Three things to watch

Johns Hopkins has dominated this series with a 31-6 record, but Rutgers swept last season's series with wins in the regular season and Big Ten tournament. With a 3-1 mark away from Piscataway, N.J., the Scarlet Knights have already matched last year's road win total. The Blue Jays are 4-1 at home and have tied last year's win total in Baltimore.

No. 10 Rutgers (8-1) watched its eight-game winning streak end in Saturday's 13-9 loss at Delaware. The team is the only one in Division I to be ranked in the top 10 in both scoring and fewest goals allowed. A defense that ranks ninth in the country at just 7.9 goals per game is anchored by junior goalkeeper and Essex Community College graduate Max Edelmann, who ranks ninth in goals-against average (7.87) and is tied for 20th in save percentage (.545).

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No. 13 Johns Hopkins (5-3) halted a three-game losing streak by overcoming No. 14 Virginia, 18-17, in overtime on Saturday. The 15th-most prolific offense in the nation has been aided by a man-up unit that ranks second after converting 56.0 percent of its opportunities (14-of-25). Senior attackman Wilkins Dismuke and junior midfielder Patrick Fraser are tied for 22nd with four extra-man goals each.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Homewood Field in Baltimore on Friday at 7 p.m.

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1) Ball protection. Johns Hopkins leads Division I in fewest turnovers per game at 9.6 and committed just 10 against Virginia, which ranks fifth in the country in caused turnovers. Matching or lowering that number may be a tougher task against Rutgers, which has amassed a nation-leading 11.3 takeaways. Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala hopes that the experience of facing the Cavaliers' unique nine-man ride will prepare the players for what they will face against the Scarlet Knights.

"It's a part of our DNA in that we're not just going to throw the ball away," he said. "We've got to have ball security – whether that's just moving the ball around the perimeter or making sure that when we're attacking the goal, we're doing so in a fashion that's aggressive. Rutgers is long, they're aggressive, they're well-schooled, and they do a very good job of not only causing turnovers but getting the ball."

2) Ground balls. Another key to Johns Hopkins' win over Virginia was the team's ability to beat the country's top ground ball unit at its own game, collecting 38 loose balls to the Cavaliers' 34. Rutgers' average of 34.7 ground balls falls well short of Virginia's 46.9 rate, but the Scarlet Knights still lead the Big Ten in that department. Pouncing on those loose balls will be pivotal if the Blue Jays wish to keep a lid on the number of caused turnovers Rutgers registers.

"A caused turnover isn't a caused turnover if you don't come up with the ball," Pietramala said. "They do a very good job of coming up with the ball when it's on the ground. I think that's something we've talked a great deal about. They're terrific in 50-50 ground balls, and they ride very well. They create some turnovers in the riding game, and then defensively, at moments, they're aggressive, and when they do put the ball on the floor, they do so with a purpose, and that purpose is to pick it up and push it in transition."

3) Transition. Johns Hopkins has developed a reputation for taking the wind out of the ball, but the team scored three goals in transition against Virginia, which scored five times in unsettled situations. The Blue Jays hope the game against the Cavaliers will brace them for Rutgers, which knows only one gear. Still, ESPN/Big Ten analyst Mark Dixon said he expects Johns Hopkins to run if the opportunity presents itself.

"Hopkins is not a team with a bunch of slowpokes anymore," the former Blue Jays midfielder said. "They've got guys that can get up and down the field. So they can play that style. Rutgers is going to push the pace and is going to be fully frenetic, and yeah, I think Hopkins can play that. If they are going to play that style and I said this in the preseason, Hopkins is probably going to win more games of the 16-15 variety than the 9-8 variety this year just because of the way teams are playing and the athletes that everybody has and just the way the rules are."

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