Mike Teel was back for his fifth-year after throwing for a school record 20 touchdowns last season, and senior Tiquan Underwood and junior Kenny Britt - both coming off 1,000 yard seasons - returned as statistically the second best receiving tandem in the country.
What made them even more of a threat was the expected emergence of Kevin Brock as a pass-catching threat at tight end, and the depth at wide-out with junior Tim Brown and fourth-year junior Dennis Campbell.
"The words I would use are out of sync," Head Coach Greg Schiano said about the offense. "I thought we did some good things, but we couldn't get into a good flow. It just didn't seem to flow freely. I think the team, collectively, needs to take over games. We have some great players, but I didn't think we played well enough as a team."
Teel was certainly out of sync, missing his targets all game and in almost every way possible. It wasn't his fault entirely; the team had its fair share of drops, but throughout the game he was having trouble connecting with his receivers on passes he usually completes. For the day, he finished an inconsistent 20-for-39 for 263 yards with two interceptions.
"They played their scheme hard, they're a talented team," Teel said. "It's what we expected. The bottom line is we need to be able to capitalize on our opportunities when we need them because there a good football team. If you don't hit your deep balls or you don't convert your third downs, you're not going to win the game."
Another major factor in the lack of offense was the disappearance of Britt in the second half. He had four catches for 61 yards in the first half, including a short pass he turned into a 41 yard gain, but managed only two receptions for 28 yards in the last two quarters.
"They did some things to take away Kenny," Teel said. "The way our offense is based, if you play single high or man coverage, we're going to try and throw to Kenny. They did a good job of taking that away. We just needed to adjust and we weren't able to find any rhythm for whatever reason."
There were some glimpses of the offense turning it around and showing what they were projected to be. The problem being, three of those drives resulted in zero points. The Knights turned it over on downs in the first quarter after going 77 yards, and when they botched two field goal attempts. Rutgers pieced together an 81-yard touchdown march in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 10-7, but was shut down for the remainder of the contest.
"It's frustrating because we were moving the ball well and the defense was playing so well, but we weren't able to score touchdowns," Teel said. "We need to get whatever [put us] off or why we were off and figure it out and get it fixed. If we're that much off against any good college football team, we're not going to win."
Schiano did express some concern with this opening day matchup. Most schools try and schedule cupcake games early on, but the head coach went out on a limb and booked a tough Fresno State team.
This game could just be a case of the offense being rusty and it's tough to try and develop a rhythm against a nationally ranked team early on. It's still early so whatever the case may be, Rutgers will have to figure out what went wrong and move on from there.
"All you can do is learn from a game like today and correct the mistakes
for our next game against North Carolina," Underwood said. "We'll
go back to the drawing board and prepare. We have to come out and execute because
you only have 12 games, and we need to take advantage of each and every game."