Time:10 p.m., CenturyLink Field, Seattle
TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 710-WOR, 1450-AM, 97.5 FM
Series: First meeting
Last meeting: First meeting
Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (3rd season, 15-11); Washington State – Mike Leach (13th season 93-59, 3rd at Washington State 9-16)
- Can You Smell What the Fridge is Cooking? -- Rutgers opened the pocket books and hit an offseason home run in hiring Ralph Friedgen as its fifth offensive coordinator in as many years. Friedgen made his presence known in spring and summer camps by shaking up the Rutgers offense, and boosting the confidence of quarterback Gary Nova. Friedgen’s offense will be about two things – developing the quarterbacks and getting the ball to playmakers. In what projects to be a shootout, two of the best offensive minds in college football clash in Friedgen and Leach.
- Secondary Market -- It’s time to see what new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi can do with an offseason to fix a broken defensive secondary. This fix will not happen immediately, especially against Leach and quarterback Connor Halliday. From Dave Cohen to Ian Thomas to Jeremy Deering, the secondary will have a different look this season. Flood went hard after cornerbacks in the last recruiting class, and multiple freshmen project to see the field tonight in Seattle. Rossi stated back at media day that the scheme will stay the same, but Rutgers will do a better job of asking players to do only what is within their skill sets. The fewer matchups between slot receivers and the “R” position the better.
- Target Practice -- Nova may be without some of his weapons tonight, but he has his top guys at 100 percent. Both receiver Leonte Carroo and tight end Tyler Kroft were not on this week’s injury report after missing significant portions of the offseason. Carroo and Kroft represent 42 percent of the returning offense at receiver from last year and 72 percent of last year’s receiving touchdowns back on the roster. This year they have a senior quarterback, five guys back on the offensive line and a ton of responsibility to perform.
Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday against sophomore cornerback Justin Goodwin
Don’t expect Halliday to take any pity on Goodwin, who is in week three of his career at cornerback. Flood speculated that Goodwin has the potential to see every snap on defense, and needs to be on top of his game as the new guy. Halliday has 58 career touchdown passes over three years, whereas Goodwin has only group one high school experience and the end of training camp from which to draw confidence. Goodwin has the athleticism. The experience will have to come on the job.
Special Teams Come Through -- Between the return game and field goal kicker Kyle Federico, every point and every yard of field position make a difference in a projected shootout. Federico had an open shot at beating Fresno State and missed the mark in last year’s opener. Rutgers needs both of its punters to perform, and a break or two when it counts. Both teams are going to score a lot. The time Rutgers devotes to special teams in practices can shine through in a big way here.
Halliday Finishes -- Washington State will have to maximize its points with the massive amount of yards it is able to produce. Rutgers will try to control the clock to keep it out of Halliday’s hands as much as possible. So any time the Cougars drive close to the red zone, they need to come out with seven points. Rutgers hung around Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl because of good play in the red zone defensively. The best way to keep up with WSU’s offense is to do the same.
WR Leonte Carroo — Remember what a fresh Carroo looks like? Maybe not after the bumps and bruises in the second half of last year. But Fresno State certainly remembers, and Carroo is in an even better position to make plays in this opener. Flood rested Carroo during significant periods of the offseason to have him ready to make plays at CenturyLink Field. Carroo was good for 135 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s opener. Watch out on third-and-long.
Something to Prove
RT Taj Alexander — In a hot position battle with Bryan Leoni before an injury ended the competition, Alexander has something to prove on the right side of the line. He split time with Leoni and J.J. Denman in the offseason, and split the starting right tackle role with Andre Civil last season. Alexander needs to play to his potential with the depth concerns elsewhere on the offensive line. Sixth-man Leoni is out for the game, leaving a very thin second-team offensive line.
Looking to Build
DT Darius Hamilton — Excellent is an understatement in describing Hamilton’s offseason. He came on strong at the end of his sophomore year, highlighted by games against UCF and USF, and continued the momentum through spring and summer. Yes, he weighs less than the average defensive tackle but he has a lot going for him including team captainship. Hamilton missed some time in camp with an injury, and the defense clearly missed his presence. He returned to practice Sunday and is full-go per Flood.
Freshman to Watch
CB Dre Boggs — A starter before going down midway through camp with a lower body injury, Boggs is back. He is going to play major snaps in his first college game. He could even start the game. Boggs started his Rutgers career as a wide receiver before quickly moving to defense after the departure of Ian Thomas. He rose to a first-team guy in camp, and is one of the keys to a solid showing from the young defensive secondary.