Saturday night marks the B1G debut of Big Ten Powerhouse Rutgers (henceforth referred to as simply "Rutgers"), and the buzz surrounding their 8 o'clock date with Penn State at High Point Solutions Stadium is palpable. Regardless of the on-field product, the stadium will be full of energy and I'm willing to bet tailgating in Piscataway will be a good time.
Now, as this game is in New Jersey, you're bound to run into certain types of undesirables. Of course, I'm talking about people who really enjoy Bruce Springsteen's music. If you are tailgaiting, you're bound to hear The Boss and his desk fan-enhanced voice coming from the Rutgers fans next to your setup. Sure, it's cool for a while. "Born to Run" isn't all that bad. But that ends, and another Springsteen song plays. "Huh, their Pandora must just have a glitch or something," you think to yourself, but no - another plays, and another plays - they have a goddamned CD. It has to be. You head for the porta-potty - those Miller Lites caught up with you anyways - when suddenly, "Bawwn, in the YOU ESS AYY, I was..." You start to sweat. Maybe you don't have to pee after all, maybe you should just get into the stadium an hour early to watch warmups. Seems like a reasonable thing to do, before the crowds get really hectic. You enter and - oh, no. It can't be.
"I had a friend, was a big baseball player back in high school"
Last Season - Rutgers: 6-7 (3-5); Springsteen: Made a crappy album with Tom Morello
Rutgers took a considerable step back from the 9-4 2012 squad that earned a spot in the Russell Athletic Bowl, finishing last year with a loss on home soil to Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl. Kyle Flood's second season at the helm started strong enough - the Scarlet Knights went 4-1 in their first five outings, with the solitary loss coming at Fresno State in overtime. But the wheels fell off once they got into the thick of the AAC schedule, and it took a victory over 2-10 South Florida to clinch a bowl bid.
Bruce, c'mon, man.
Highly doubt there was ever a guy named Tom Joad.
Rutgers made their move to the B1G official this summer, and brought 247's 62nd-ranked recruiting class with them. More importantly, they brought in a big name to coach those kids up. Flood added former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen to the staff as offensive coordinator, and the move has payed off in the early going - Rutgers is averaging 39.5 points through two games, good for 33rd in the nation.
Springsteen spent his week off from touring trying to figure out how to market his music to people that aren't 55 year-old sportswriters.
Gary Nova wasn't a shoe-in to get the starting job in his senior season after completing just 54% of his passes in 2013, but he's making Flood and Friedgen look smart at the moment. Nova is arguably having a better season than Christian Hackenberg through two games - the Scarlet Knight signal caller has a better completion percentage, more touchdowns, and a higher yards per attempt than Hack. The level of competition in this sample probably isn't the same, but regardless, Nova has been impressive thus far.
Penn State will have to key in on two danger men from the skill positions. Running back Paul James has 316 yards from scrimmage on 44 touches, one of which was a 69-yard touchdown catch. Nice. Awesomely-named wide receiver Leonte Carroo has just eight catches on the year but is very capable of busting a big play - nine of his 28 receptions in 2013 counted for six points.
If there's been a problem with the Knights in their first two games, it's on the defensive side of the ball. Joe Rossi's unit hasn't been able to get frequent stops yet. Washington State employs the air raid offense, and week one won't be the only week Connor Halliday throws for 500 yards and five touchdowns, but perhaps more concerning for Rossi is how well FCS opponent Howard ran the ball in Rutgers' 38-25 home-opening win. The Bison rushed for 269 yards as a team last Saturday; Akron, who faced Howard in week one before traveling to Happy Valley, gave up 148 rushing yards to the Bison in a shutout.
As far as defensive personnel, Kemoko Turay has been a revelation at defensive end through two games. The redshirt freshman has tallied 3.5 sacks so far. He and former five-star recruit Darius Hamilton will look to put heavy pressure on Penn State's shaky offensive line. Linebacker Steve Longa is Rutgers' top defensive playmaker, and he's one of the conference's better linebackers as a mere sophomore. The main area of concern for the Scarlet Knights will be in the secondary, especially considering James Franklin has that Wazzu tape handy.
Kicker Kyle Federico was a little shaky last season, going 10-13 from inside the 40-yard line. He's 3-4 through two games this season. Sophomore Janarion Grant had a huge rookie year - he housed two returns, and Rutgers ranked in the top-15 nationally in both kick and punt return efficiency.
Last Week: 38-25 W vs Howard
As mentioned above, it wasn't the most convincing win for Rutgers. The Knights did score 31 unanswered after allowing Howard to post the first touchdown, but three late Bison TDs made Chop Nation or whatever they call themselves sweat it out just a little.
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Rutgers has a branch campus in Camden that competes in Division III in a number of sports, and instead of sharing the Scarlet Knights moniker, they go by the "Scarlet Raptors."
BONUS FUN FACT: It's called "pork roll," not "Taylor ham," you Jersey heathens. Don't be such a slave to brands.
SECOND BONUS FUN FACT: I pretty much ran out of Springsteen jokes after the song with Tom Morello, because nothing tops a Bruce Springsteen song with a guitar solo meant to sound like a record scratching.