Monday, August 25, 2008

Rutgers Q&A with Bleed Scarlet blog

The author of the Rutgers Bleed Scarlet blog came up with the great idea of a Q&A exchange between our two blogs. Thanks for the insight on the Scarlet Knights!

Bulldog Bounce: What is the stadium atmosphere and fan tradition like at Rutgers?
Bleed Scarlet: The seats are very close to the field, so when the crowd gets into games, Rutgers Stadium can get loud. The stadium is currently in the middle of being expanded, so it's likely that there will be a lot of obvious unfinished construction work visible during the Fresno State game.
Some of the older season ticket holders have a "down in front" mentality and disapprove of other fans standing up and making noise. The younger fans and students on the other hand can get unruly at times. It's more of a pro-style atmosphere than a traditional college experience. You'll barely be able to hear the band (but you will hear the cannon), but expect a lot of 70s classic rock and Jock Jams to be played over the PA.

Will Ray Rice be replaced by a committee? How good might the Rutgers running game be in '08?
Right now it looks like Kordell Young and Mason Robinson will split carries this season. Neither has Rice's power or vision, or are as polished as he was last season, but both do have a little more speed than Rice did. Jordan Brooks is a bigger tailback and will see some time in short-yardage situations.
The overall running game will depend a lot on the play of the offensive line. Rutgers lost three starters from last season. So far in scrimmages, they've done well enough in pass protection, but have had some trouble opening holes in the running game. They've made no bones about the fact that they want to run behind their LT, Anthony Davis. The starting left guard was injured a few days ago, and it's unclear as to whether he'll be ready in time for the opener. One reason for optimism is that the team has a great offensive line coach, and it's not too difficult to find a productive runner when using a zone-blocking scheme.

Is Rutgers a team to reckon with now, or is there any worry things could return to how they were before Ray Rice?
Ray Rice was a major part of the team's success the past few seasons, but it wasn't solely on his shoulders. Explaining why Rutgers was so terrible for a good portion of a decade would take a lot of time. In summary: there were a lot of organizational challenges, and the former head coach was absolutely inept. Between facilities, academic support, and reputation, Rutgers is lightyears ahead of where it was before Greg Schiano arrived. Rutgers conceivably could fall back into mediocrity, but I don't expect that to happen, and there's no chance at this point of the bottom collapsing out from under the program.

What did Rutgers fans know about Fresno - the city and the school - before this game was scheduled?
We're familiar with Fresno State's reputation as a team that's not afraid to play anyone. I personally watched the ending of Fresno's game last year Texas A&M and thought that it was an absolute travesty. Most of us aren't that familiar with Fresno itself besides the fact that it's in California.
For Fresno State fans that are curious, Piscataway is about halfway between New York City and Philadelphia, but it's closer to NYC. It's a suburban town. Rutgers's campus is split in between two towns - Piscataway, and the more-urban New Brunswick. The latter is where you'll arrive if you come in by train (there is a shuttle bus that will take you to the stadium). New Brunswick is where any visitors will want to go after the game if they want to visit a nice restaurant or just go bar-hopping.

Rank the Fresno State players Rutgers fans are most concerned about and why?
In general, Rutgers fans aren't very familiar with any players on Fresno State's team. I have been reading what I can leading up to the game, and the Brandstater to Pascoe connection is getting the most press.

What has given Rutgers the worst matchup problems the past two years on both sides of the ball?
RU's biggest vulnerability on defense is to a power rushing attack. Coach Schiano likes to make his corners into safeties, safeties into linebackers, etc... to get the fastest personnel possible on defense. The end result is that the defensive line averages 270 lbs on a good day. This was a problem even in 2006 when the team was playing at a very high level.
Last season, the team did have some trouble opening holes in the running game early in the year, before a few changes were made to the starting lineup in October. Given the inexperience on the offensive line, rushing offense is again a concern entering this year.
The team's special teams were also terrible last season.

What West coast team does Rutgers' style most resemble?
We get a couple of Pac 10 games on Fox Sports Network, but overall I'm not very familiar with the specifics of each west coast team's attack. Personnel-willing, Rutgers likes to throw the football downfield, coupled with a power rushing game that keeps the chains moving and the opposing defense on the field. It's a variant of the classic Air Coryell offense favored by offensive coordinators such as Norv Turner.

Who are the go-to players when in need of a first down?
When the game is on the line, quarterback Mike Teel is going to throw the ball deep to receiver Kenny Britt. Britt is the most talented player on the team, and I'm surprised has has not received more preseason hype after a great 2007. Britt is the focal point of the offense, and everything goes through him if at all possible.

Does the Rutgers defense employ more zone or man?
It really depends on how exotic Schiano (who also serves as the team's offensive coordinator) wants to get with his blitzes, which he has no qualms about sending from every position. The team was very young at CB last year, so they played a lot of Cover-2 and Cover-3. When they did play zone, the CBs usually gave opposing receivers a large cushion. If that continues, they could be very vulnerable to possession receivers with steady hands.

Where does Fresno State rank as far as difficulty of teams on Rutgers' schedule?
West Virginia and South Florida rank first and second respectively. I'd say Fresno State is a little better than Pitt, which is not nearly as good as the Bulldogs offensively, but does have some playmakers on that side of the ball, to go along with a terrific defense. I'd also put Fresno State above Cincinnati, as long as Ben Mauk doesn't win his appeal with the NCAA.

Your prediction for the game?

Rutgers and Fresno State both should have prolific offenses this year, but Fresno State's experience on the offensive line gives them the edge there. I think Rutgers will have the better defense. That, combined with home-field advantage, will hopefully make for a narrow Rutgers win. 27-24. No Rutgers fan will be stunned if we lose though, or if Fresno State runs the table this year and crashes the BCS.

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