Preview: N.C. Central at Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Game day is finally here. The Rutgers football team opens its 2011 season in a matter of hours under the lights at High Point Solutions Stadium against North Carolina Central. ScarletReport.com previews the action.

North Carolina Central at Rutgers


Time: 7:34, High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.
TV/Radio: ESPN3.com, 710-WOR, 1450-AM, 97.5 FM, 88.7 WRSU
Series: First Meeting
Last meeting: Dec. 5. , 2009: WVU won, 24-21
Coaches: Rutgers – Greg Schiano (11th season, 59-63); North Carolina Central – (0-0, 1st season, 69-54 overall in 13 seasons)

Storylines

  • Season opener. Rutgers does not have a strong recent history in season-openers and will need to come out of the gate stronger than last year to wash out the taste of a trying 2010 season. The Scarlet Knights have not performed at a high level in an opener since 2007, when Ray Rice and Tiquan Underwood combined for 453 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-3 rout of Buffalo.

  • Dominating the MEAC. Rutgers is 7-0 against teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Under Schiano, the record stands at 5-0, outscoring opponents 229-7.

  • Another new face. From Mike Teel to Dom Natale to Tom Savage to Chas Dodd, Rutgers will have a new starting quarterback for the fourth consecutive season-opener. Teel, Natale and Savage all put up unsatisfactory performances to start the season. Teel threw two picks in an embarrassing 24-7 loss to Fresno State. Natale lost his starting job by halftime after three picks against Cincinnati and Savage failed to get the team in the end zone in the first half against 1-AA opponent Norfolk State.

Scouting N.C. Central
The N.C. Central Eagles run the spread offensively and a 4-2-5 defense. Rutgers struggled against some spread teams last season and have more than a few on the schedule this year once Big East football begins. Rutgers made many position changes from last year to improve team speed and will need that against the spread. The 4-2-5 defense works favorably for Rutgers' pro-style running game, so expect strong performances from co-starters De'Antwan Williams and Savon Huggins.

Coach Henry Frazier III
N.C. Central returns nine starters on offense, including four offensive linemen. Keep an eye on 6-foot-4, fifth-year senior receiver Corey Harris and speedy 5-foot-7 Geovonie Irvine, who caught 53 balls for 758 yards and five touchdowns last season.

Head coach Henry Frazier III is in his first season with N.C. Central after turning around the Prairie View A&M Program from an 80-game losing streak.

Matchup to Watch
Rutgers' Scott Vallone vs. N.C. Central's James Frye and Justin Lewis. This will be Vallone's first test against the first of many double-teams, now that everyone knows what he can do. Frye, the starting center, is a fifth-year senior and Lewis, a junior right guard, transferred from Maryland.

What Rutgers Must Do Offensively
Get everyone involved. Spreading the wealth The best way to build confidence for a tough matchup next weekend against North Carolina. Chas Dodd and Gary Nova need to complete at least one pass to each of the first six receivers and two tight ends. In addition, De'Antwan Williams, Savon Huggins, Jeremy Deering, Jawan Jamison and Joe Martinek all need touches. If all of Dodd's weapons come out of the game with a play or two to build off, it is a good sign for North Carolina game week.

What Rutgers Must Do Defensively
Establish a pass rush.It does not matter how good the secondary is this season if the offense has all day to throw. Rutgers had just two sacks in its 1-AA game last season and that set the tone for an off-year in the sack department. The Scarlet Knights had a -43 sack differential last season.

Three keys for a Rutgers win
1. Run that ball. Williams and Huggins should both exceed 100 yards against N.C. Central. Rutgers can control the clock with the run and open up the pass-game.

2. Take N.C. Central seriously. Rutgers has a major advantage on paper, but the Scarlet Knights cannot simply run out of the tunnel and expect to coast. Rutgers has to play Rutgers football for 60 minutes, whether it is with the first team or the reserves.

3. Swarm the ball. It is easier said than done, but with the speedy defensive approach, Rutgers needs to put a stop to any plays that get past the first level.

Three keys for N.C. Central to compete
1. Get tricky. The N.C. Central coaching staff needs to throw everything in the playbook at the Scarlet Knights to keep them off-balance. That means reverses, halfback passes, heck, even the Wildcat package if it is feasible for them. The more confusing the scheme, the longer it will take an inexperienced defense to adjust.

2. Execute on special teams. N.C. Central has no chance to compete if Rutgers dominates the field position battle. The Eagles need some good returns and consistent performance in the kicking game to even the playing field.

3. Confidence. If N.C. Central goes into tonight's game expecting to compete and not expecting to win, then the Eagles have already lost.

Football 101
To help familiarize the less rabid fans with the X's and O's of college football, ScarletReport.com break down a factor relevant to each game before kickoff. This week, we break down the "spread offense," which Rutgers faces for the first time this season today and expects from multiple Big East opponents.

The spread offense is an offense based on speed and quick decision making. It is designed to generate confusion against traditional defensive sets and force coverage mis-matches. It is called the spread because players are stretched across the entire field, traditionally with four receivers and a running back that can play either in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage.

Most spread offense use no-huddle to limit defensive substitutions and gas opposing linebackers and linemen.

West Virginia is a great example of a team that excels in this offense. The New England Patriots use the spread well at the next level.

Prediction
Rutgers 47, N.C. Central 6

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