PISCATAWAY, NJ - SEPTEMBER 1: Duron Harmon #32 of Rutgers Scarlet Knights is congratulated by teammates Marcus Thompson #48 and Ben Martin #30 after Harmon returned an interception for a touchdown against North Carolina Central eagles during a college football game on September 1, 2011 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
It may not have registered as such at the time, but last season's opening victory over Norfolk State was an ugly portend of things to come for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights struggled early to establish the line of scrimmage against a FCS opponent, before ultimately wearing them down in the second half. It was just one game, but similar problems persisted throughout the year. The same basic ingredients were involved in last night's blowout win over N.C. Central, but Greg Schiano used a new-and-improved recipe to cook up a victory in dominating fashion. This is how victories over FCS opponents are supposed to look: overwhelming, and ultimately forgettable.
After several years of wildcat fatigue, last night was the banality that Rutgers fans have been craving. If you want to leave the space football to the Oregons of the world, and just prefer battering opponents into submission, the season offered exactly that. Rutgers is a middle-of-the-road team, and this victory was a textbook example of exactly how average teams are supposed to perform when working from an overwhelming resource advantage. Congratulations; last year was a blip, and Rutgers is back to being Rutgers again. They still have a long way to go, but the early results are evident on the field. This 2011 team is going to be much better than 2010's 4-8 squad.
Rutgers clearly was not going to empty the playbook against N.C. Central, not with UNC a week and a half away. As such, last night's game featured the usual round of early jitters. It was nothing to be concerned about, not compared to fundamental problems like a team's lines being unsound, but like any young team they still have to work out a few timing issues. The overwhelming positive sign on the night was the performance of both lines. Chas Dodd and Gary Nova had plenty of time to throw, with play action already emerging as a focal point in the new offense. It wasn't really reflected in the stat line, but backs such as Rocket Williams had decent rushing lanes to run through.
Dodd was a mixed back on the night. There were a few too many forced throws, but receivers like Mohamed Sanu and Jeremy Deering also dropped what should have been easy catches (Deering looks very fast, and Sanu looked faster than in '10 last night as well.) He also sees a bit too many tipped balls due to his lack of height. Nova looked mostly as green as you would expect a true freshman to be in reserve duty, but made up for it on a touchdown pass to Coleman. The emphasis on spreading the ball around was evident, with the added caveat that Rutgers likely was disinclined to tip its hand much on the night. On RU's first play of the game, where Dodd ran play action and overthrew Brandon Coleman streaking down the sidelines, you could almost imagine an ethereal John McNulty smiling from above.
De'Antwan Williams outshined reserves Jawan Jamsion and Savon Huggins in the backfield; Jamison actually got in the game before Huggins, but it was Sayvonnnnn who got the call on two early touchdown plays. Joe Martinek actually lined up in a surprising number of two-back sets as a true fullback. Yes, it's just N.C. Central, but the performance was night and day compared to last season's uninspiring effort. Plus, now that defenders are actually allowed to blitz and go after opposing quarterbacks, Coach Schiano's speedy, revamped defense lived in the opposing backfield the entire game.
- Nova and Huggins obviously played on the night, with other true freshmen in Miles Shuler, Kevin Snyder, and Ken Kirksey all seeing time. Keith Sargeant said John Aiken, Tejay Johnson, and Daryl Stephenson (guess he's ahead of Mera and Page) also played.
- Martinek had the circus catch of the night on a crazy tipped ball.
- Desmond Wynn limped off the field with what seemed like a bad injury. Marvin Booker went down too, but seemed to walk to the sidelines under his own power. Betim Bujari subbed for Wynn. Bujari has a lot of promise, and RU still has a few reserves on the OL to spare, but you have to hope for the best here.
- Mason Robinson's risky tendencies to eschew fair catches also resurfaced on the night. That occasionally paid off in 2010, but has to scare the heck out of everyone watching.
- There wasn't a great crowd on the night, but the student section was packed, and excuses are abound (Irene, bad opponent, etc...) Have to beat UNC to get that number up for Ohio.
- Other games of note on the night: Syracuse stormed back against Wake Forest, and Temple crushed Villanova. So much for John Marinatto's master plan to sneak the Wildcats in through the back door.
- Eric LeGrand returned to High Point Solutions Stadium as part of the radio broadcast team.
- The Scarlet jerseys/Scarlet pants uniform combination is always visually unappealing, and its use should be severely curtailed in favor of Scarlet/White. Isn't Scarlet/Scarlet and White/White supposed be reserved for important games anyway?