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Rutgers Football: Way-too-early Game 1 preview

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We caught up with David Hall, a local reporter on the Norfolk State football team, to talk about the Spartans' team in 2015.

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It's never too early to take a look at the upcoming fall.

Rutgers opens up the 2015 season with FCS opponent Norfolk State on Saturday, Sept. 5 at 12 p.m. at High Point Solutions Stadium. The teams last met in 2013 with the Knights dominating the Spartans in a 38-0 rout in Piscataway. Rutgers held NSU to just 133 yards of offense and six first downs, while Paul James ran for 113 yards and three scores.

The Spartans are led by head coach Latrell Scott, who enters his first season with the team. Scott comes from Division II Virginia State where he led the team to back-to-back conference titles. Scott is an offensive mind with DI experience as a wide receivers coach at Tennessee and Virginia.

Norfolk State Quick Facts

Team: Norfolk State Spartans

Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)

Head Coach: Latrell Scott (1st season at Norfolk State)

Series History: Rutgers leads 3-0

2014 Record: 4-8, 4-4 MEAC

Starters Returning Lost: 15/11 (Offense: 9/4; Defense: 5/6: Special Teams: 1/1)

Basic Offense: West Coast

Basic Defense: 3-4

Q&A with David Hall

David Hall, who covers Norfolk State football for the Virginian-Pilot, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Spartans for us.

OtB: Newly-hired head coach Latrell Scott had a lot of success at DII Virginia State. Are fans excited about what he brings to NSU?

DH: One would think so, but we'll see. The Spartans have struggled to draw fans at home, even when they played cross-town rival Old Dominion two seasons ago. (ODU sells out every home game, but the game at NSU drew just 11,308.) The West Coast offense first-year coach Latrell Scott is bringing could stir some interest if it has early success.

OtB: NSU had a stout defense last season, holding opponents to 17.6 points per game. Should the defense be better or worse in 2015?

DH: The personnel, despite the loss of FCS All-American linebacker Lynden Trail, will be just as strong. Senior linebacker Deon King, a first-team All-MEAC performer who had 106 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks last season, will serve as the centerpiece. It's worth noting that former head coach Pete Adrian was a defense-first guy. Scott is not, but he likes the defensive coaches he hired.

OtB: Scott is an offensive-minded coach. Are you expecting significant strides for the offense, which averaged 11.7 points per game in 2014?

DH: In a word, yes. The Spartans haven't been especially creative on offense in recent years, and Scott's scheme promises to change that. I expect sophomore quarterback Terrance Ervin, who got his feet wet as the starter last season, to thrive in the system.

OtB: Who are three players to watch for the Spartans?

DH: Quarterback Terrance Ervin, who passed for 1,310 yards and eight touchdowns as a true freshman last season. Running back Gerard Johnson, a transfer from Old Dominion who was second on that team with 493 rushing yards last season. Linebacker Deon King, a first-team All-MEAC performer who had 106 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks last season.

OtB: What does NSU have to do in order to pull off the upset?

DH: First, the Spartans will have to get past playing before a larger crowd than they're used to seeing. They seemed intimidated from the start when they visited Rutgers two seasons ago. The offense will have to run on all cylinders, and the defense must fulfill all assignments in order to overcome what will likely be a major size disadvantage.

Analysis

Norfolk State is an FCS team, so there will be a significant size and speed advantage for Rutgers. The Knights should win comfortably, but it will be interesting to see if Rettig and/or Laviano can put up gaudy numbers against what is a strong defense for an FCS school.

If the offense hits its stride against NSU, that would give the Knights some momentum heading into a big week two matchup versus offensive powerhouse Washington State. Stay tuned for a way-too-early preview of that game.