Game Preview: Rutgers at Fresno State

FRESNO, Calif. – Rutgers and Fresno State kick off the 2013 season tonight at Bulldog Stadium. Both programs have their sights legitimately set on the BCS with Rutgers looking to make a splash in its one year in the American and Fresno aiming for a BCS buster season. is on-hand in Fresno to preview the action.

Rutgers at Fresno State

Time: 10:30 p.m., Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, Calif.
TV/Radio: ESPNU, 710-WOR, 1450-AM, 97.5 FM
Series: Fresno State leads 1-0
Last meeting: Sept. 1, 2008: Fresno State won, 24-7
Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (2nd season, 9-4); Fresno State – Tim DeRuyter (2nd season, 9-4)

Storyline Central

  • Underdogs -- Fresno State brings an elite college quarterback and BCS buster momentum into thee game, making Rutgers a two-score underdog on the road. Rutgers is not known for coming out of the gate on fire in the first game and lost to the Bulldogs in the 2008 opener under different circumstances. Rutgers is 9-4 in season openers since 2000 but a consensus underdog in a "whiteout" game at Bulldog Stadium.

  • Bowl Disappointments -- Rutgers and Fresno State are both eager to get back on the field after ugly ends to their respective 2012 seasons. For the Scarlet Knights, a 13-10 overtime loss to Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl represented the third straight loss after Flood had the Scarlet Knights in position for a Sugar Bowl bid. Fresno State brought the conference offensive player of the year in Derek Carr into blowout loss against SMU in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Losing 43-10, Carr took hit after hit at quarterback the Bulldogs suffered an even worse ending than Rutgers in 2012.

  • Star Watch -- Tonight's opponents have a pair of potential first day draft picks in Carr and wide receiver Brandon Coleman. Carr's older brother, David Carr, is a former first-round pick and the Fresno signal-caller is in the same mold. Carr threw for 4,104 yards and 37 touchdowns as a junior and is being build up as one of the premiere quarterbacks in college football for the 2013 season. Coleman enters the season four touchdowns shy of Tim Brown's all-time Rutgers receiving touchdown record and has the most NFL hype for an underclassman since Anthony Davis in 2009. Coleman missed all of spring and parts of camp while recovering from a leg injury but extra work with quarterback Gary Nova has him hungry to get going.

Matchup to Watch
Rutgers center Betim Bujari against Fresno State nose tackle Tyeler Davison

Davison is an impact guy defensively and a perfect fit for the Fresno State scheme with his 6-foot-1 frame and wrestling background. Bujari and Davison were both Top 80 guards coming out of the 2010 class and will be under the spotlight tonight at Bulldog Stadium. Flood makes it no secret that he wants to pound the ball and establish a run game. For this to be successful, Bujari has to keep the all-conference Davison under control. Davison is quick, explosive and the No. 1 obstacle for Savon Huggins in the running game. The question with Davison is where he plays. He projects as a nose guard, but can also move outside to defensive end and cause matchup problems for other linemen.

Scarlet Knights Win If…
Huggins answers the call The Huggins performance against Cincinnati – 41 runs for 179 yards – is a common reference point for his career but take it away and the former five-star back averages 2.8 yards per carry over two seasons. Rutgers needs to control the ground game and establish long drives. The more plays Fresno State gets off, the more chances Carr and receiver Davonte Adams have to make a big play.

RB Savon Huggins
Bulldogs Win If …
Carr exploits secondary -- Leading into kickoff, Rutgers cornerback Ian Thomas asked, why wouldn't Carr go after him? Rutgers has two new starters and a Western Michigan transfer standing between Carr and the end zone. Carr can expect plenty of harassment from the front seven in Dave Cohen's defensive scheme but it is up to Thomas, Lewis Toler and Gareef Glashen to keep the receivers in check long enough for pass rushers to make plays.


Impact Player
WR Brandon Coleman — Missing the majority of offseason activities with a leg injury, Coleman is fighting fit and ready to get going. Coleman and quarterback Gary Nova spent extra time after practice nightly to get back on track and the 6-foot-5, 4.4 receiver is the best big-play guy Rutgers has. Coleman is four touchdowns from the school record and stands at least four inches over every cornerback on the Fresno State depth chart.

WR Brandon Coleman
Something to Prove
QB Gary Nova — The Russell Athletic Bowl was a low point for Nova but served as a turning point in his development as a team leader. After a 17-for-40 showing for 129 yards against the Hokies, Nova spent the offseason improving his conditioning, studying film daily and inspired to come to spring camp as a better quarterback. In five offseason scrimmage situations, Nova did not through an interception. He put together back-to-back good camps and is a team captain. With the casual fan only remembering what he did in Orlando, Fla., Nova has plenty to prove tonight against Fresno State.

Looking to Build
WR Leonte Carroo — Carroo made a living in the end zone during training camp but has yet to make an on-field reception since his state championship at MetLife Stadium with Don Bosco Prep. Carroo looked the part of a big-time receiver, showed consistent hands and worked well with Nova, a long-time friend. Carroo can be a big part of the game plan tonight if he can built on his stellar sophomore training camp.

Freshman to Watch
CB Ian Thomas — Thomas went from scout team wide receiver to starting cornerback after a redshirt semester in 2012. The ball skills are there as a converted receiver, and he brings the size and speed needed to be a lockdown cornerback and physical player in the Rutgers scheme. Thomas, however, has not been tested by a live opponent at defensive back since his days at Reisterstown (Md.) Franklin High. Facing Carroo, Coleman and the rest of the Rutgers receivers is good preparation, but Thomas is well aware that Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr is gunning for him.

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