Pete Adrian, who is entering his sixth season as the Spartans' head coach, spoke about his team, the game and Rutgers on Tuesday morning. Here is the Q&A with Adrian:
You have a few new faces on the team. Can you talk about the 2010 Spartans?
First of all, we do have a couple of fresh faces, but I do feel better because we have a lot of returning starters and some good depth coming back this year.
Obviously, we're going to have a new quarterback, a new free safety, going to have some new receivers out there that haven't played a lot in games. So, they're going to get baptized pretty quick Thursday night when we go up against Rutgers.
You do return running back DeAngelo Branche. Can you talk a little bit about expectation for him during his senior campaign
Well, he's had a great camp. That's one position where we didn't lose anybody at all last year, so we have a lot of experience coming back there. DeAngelo has really taken over a leadership role.
He's in great shape, worked out with the track team in the offseason and has much better speed now. He certainly can break away. He's running a consistent 4.5 at 203 pound, so we feel good about that because physically, he's one of the toughest players we have on our team.
This week you will face Rutgers, a team you are familiar with (from 2007). Can you talk a little bit about that matchup?
It's probably going to be the best team we play all year. At least, it should be, being a BCS team and a team that's been in four straight bowls (five, actually) and won all four bowl games. They're the typical Division I team. They're huge up front. Their offensive line across the front averages about 6-5, about 310 pounds.
They've got the No. 1 quarterback coming back in the Big East in (Tom) Savage, who's also 6-5, 225 pounds. Their tight end is 6-6, 260, and they feel that they have the best defense they've had since coach (Greg) Schiano's been there. So it's going to be a really major, major thing to go in there.
But the good news about it is is we have 16 seniors who played against them as true freshmen or red-shirt freshmen, so they've been there before. And, of course, we went and played at Kentucky, so this is the third time for our seniors to be playing a Division I team. That takes a little bit of the pressure off because they understand what's there, and they're excited about going back.
Who will the starting QB be?
We decided last week Chris Walley, a junior college player out of Joliet, Illinois, is going to be our starter. He's had a real good camp. He was with us in the spring. He probably has the most experience of the three quarterbacks as far as playing actual games. He seems to be running the team pretty good, and making a lot of good reads, and he's capable of running the football, so we're excited about having him take charge.
Who is the backup QB?
Dexter Merritt has been with us …this is his fourth year. He's finally healthy. He can certainly go in and run a ball game for us. And Jake Strickler, our other junior college kid that we brought in, he's going to be pretty doggone good. He just got here in preseason camp. He's a little behind from a mental standpoint, but once he gets that down, he's going to be a pretty good player.
As a program, what do you get out of playing Rutgers?
You go up and play the bigger schools like this, and they have bigger numbers than you and whatnot, the first thing you want to do is, you're putting yourself in a great environment with 60,000 fans up there.
If you can handle that, you can handle almost everything else. You've got the rest of the year to look at, and your kids all want to accept that challenge. They all want to go up and really test themselves and see how well they can play against a true Division I football team, and that's a big thing.
It helps you in recruiting, and you get a little money out of it financially. It's probably a win-win for both schools.
The way the first half ended (in 2007), do the players remember the way it ended, with Rutgers putting up a barrage of points in the second quarter?
I still have nightmares about that every night. It was 3-0 there in the first quarter, and in the second quarter they just broke it loose and hit some big plays on us. They had some great athletes, and all those guys are in the NFL right now, so that's a good place for them. That's a threat any time you play any true Division I team like that. That second quarter is one of the toughest quarters to get through because their depth starts taking over, they're starting to figure out some of the things you're trying to do and they try and take advantage of it.
Is it almost better to face a team like Rutgers when it's trying to feel itself out in the opener?
That's a two-edged sword. They're going to be feeling themselves out, much like everybody in the first game. That's the good news. The bad news is they've had three or four weeks to prepare for you.