The MEAC returns to High Point Solutions Stadium this Saturday, providing the perfect opportunity for non-starters to get legitimate playing time. Rutgers needs to get ahead early in this game to keep the starters fresh and healthy, as the depth will be tested this year. As many as three starters could be sidelined for the matchup, and with Arkansas and Louisville coming up soon, staying healthy against an overmatched opponent is key.
Norfolk State Spartans (0-1) Last week: Lost v. Maine, 23-6
Last year's record: 4-7
Coach: Pete Adrian (79-73-1 overall)
Notable players: RB Deuce Finch
The Spartans enter the game as 40-point underdogs, so don't expect a lot of drama. Head coach Pete Adrian has a three-way competition at quarterback after losing Nico Flores was ruled academically ineligible. The offense committed a MEAC-high 34 turnovers last season, so expect RU defensive coordinator Dave Cohen to bring the blitz. This is a great chance for the defense to get more comfortable and gain confidence after getting shredded by Fresno State. There are still plenty of powerful offenses left on the schedule, and Norfolk State provides the best opportunity to tinker with schemes and coverage.
As for RU, the Scarlet Knights could potentially be without three starting players. DE Jamil Merrell, TE Paul Carrezola, and RG Andre Civil are all questionable for Saturday. Mil's absence was felt against Fresno State, as the pass rush was lacking for many series against the Bulldogs. Tyler Kroft could fill in for Carrezola, and could use this game as an opportunity to work on his blocking work. If Kroft could become more than just a pass-catcher, the offense will benefit greatly from his utility. Civil's injury is less of a blow, considering redshirt freshman Chris Muller came in for Civil in the latter half against Fresno State, when Paul James was able to wear down the Bulldog defense.
Gaining confidence is the key for several other players as well. Savon Huggins is at a pivotal point in his career after being overtaken by former walk-on Paul James. Will he serve the team admirably in a back-up role? Or will he let the pressure and criticism get to him? James is a great story, but a great running game isn't built on one back alone. Huggins needs to be more productive, whether as a starter or a backup. While Norfolk State is an FCS team, their defense has been top three in the conference going back to 2009. This could be the jumpstart that Huggins needs.
Meanwhile, the secondary can feast on the uncertainty at quarterback for Norfolk State. Tyler Clark, Malik Stokes, and Omari Timmons are all likely to see playing time as Adrian looks to decide on a starter for conference play. Clark and Stokes both saw playing time last week, but neither played well enough to earn the starting spot going forward. This is a far cry from playing against Derek Carr, which means defensive backs like Gareef Glashen and Ian Thomas should easily dominate the passing game.
Rutgers hasn't given up a single point to an FCS team in quite awhile, and I see that streak continuing. Expect to see some Chas Dodd, maybe even some Ranking/Laviano. If Norfolk State had a better offense, I could see the shutout streak coming to an end, especially with the RU defense in its current state. I'll take Rutgers at 45-0, with the Spartans unable to cover.