On a college campus, the end of summer means two things: classes and sports.
For the Fresno State Bulldogs football team, opening night is near. With only three days remaining until its game against Rutgers, focus on the practice field has shifted. It’s not about the fundamentals; instead, it’s about knowing their opponent.
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights, based in Piscataway, N.J., will travel 2,914 miles to Bulldog Stadium for the first time to face the Mountain West co-champions. The last time they met was on Sep. 1, 2008, when the Bulldogs traveled to New Jersey and won the season-opening match 24-7.
Now, with Rutgers stepping onto Bulldog Stadium, the 2013 Bulldogs understand the significance of this meeting.
“Anytime you get a chance to have a BCS team come into Bulldog Stadium, our guys know it’s a tremendous challenge,” Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said.
This season, Fresno State and Rutgers have similar backgrounds. Both have sophomore head coaches who posted a 9-4 record in their first year. They both also won their respective conference championships.
The difference lies in the style of play. Fresno State will continue to use the up-tempo spread offense, which arrived with offensive coordinator Dave Schramm last year. This fast-paced style of offense will go against Rutgers’ pro-style, not commonly seen in college football. Last year, Fresno State was ranked 16th in the football bowl subdivision in offense with 477.54 yards per game. Rutgers was ranked 104th with 329.92 yards per game.
Defensively, Rutgers will carry a 4-3 defense that was ranked tenth with 311.62 yards allowed per game. Fresno State, using a 3-4 defense introduced last fall, was 22nd with 338.85 yards allowed per game.
Starting at quarterback for Rutgers is junior Gary Nova. At 6-2, 220 pounds, Nova threw for 2,695 yards with 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last year in his first season as the No. 1 quarterback. Also returning for Rutgers is Brandon Coleman, its 6-6 wide receiver who had 10 touchdowns and 718 receiving yards last season.
“We’re talking a really talented football team,” DeRuyter said of Rutgers. “I think it’s indicative last year, they had seven guys drafted in the National Football League. They do a great job in developing and coaching those guys.”
And because of that talent, preparation is important. During the weekend, the Bulldogs honed their situational skills. While they focused on Rutgers on both sides of the ball, they mixed in end-of-game drills and third down plays. Friday’s and Saturday’s practices were their typical Tuesday practice. Sunday’s was their typical Wednesday practice.
“We want to look at the tape, see what Rutgers does, put our game plans in and see how we’re going to fit that up,” DeRuyter said.
With the lingering, off-season questions answered, it’s only three more dress rehearsal-like practices before the Bulldogs are ready to play their first game.
“I know the Red Wave will be there and hopefully they bring some friends out there on Thursday night,” DeRuyter said.