In anticipation of the UNC-Rutgers game on September 11th the Rutgers blog Bleed Scarlet emailed me suggesting a Q&A which turns out to have been an outstanding idea. My answers to his questions appears here. Bleed Scarlet's answers to my questions are after the jump.
THF: For those unfamiliar with Rutgers who are the three to watch on offense and on defense?
Bleed Scarlet: The player to watch on offense, and clearly the best player on the entire team, is wide receiver Kenny Britt. Others to watch are left tackle Anthony Davis and quarterback Mike Teel. Defensively, the RU's best players are defensive tackle Pete Tverdov, safety Courtney Greene, and linebacker Ryan D'Imperio.
THF: What is your team's greatest strength and weakness?
Bleed Scarlet: The team's strength is obviously its passing game. Mike Teel did not play well vs. Fresno State, and neither did receiver Tiquan Underwood, but Kenny Britt had a very strong game, and tight end Kevin Brock is a sneaky receiving threat over the middle. The unit was a strong as a whole in 2007, and Rutgers fans will be looking for Teel and Underwood to rebound next Thursday. The team's pass rush is also very strong.
UNC did have some success running Ronnie McGill between the tackles against Rutgers two years ago. I was surprised and pleased that the Tar Heels did not further exploit the team's inability to defend against power backs (a consequence of Greg Schiano's emphasis on team speed and pass rushing on defense). An even bigger achilles heel is special teams, where Rutgers was miserable in 2007, and continued to struggle in its first game. Our punter looks to be at least average this year (which is a major improvement), but the team is breaking in a new kicker, and its coverage and return units are still dreadful.
THF: How would you describe the game time environment at Rutgers considering the team was a doormat for so many years and now has risen up to become a perennial power in the Big East?
Bleed Scarlet: We're making it up as it goes along. It's a pro-style atmosphere, with a lot of music over the PA, and less emphasis on the band and other traditional college fare. Fan support is very strong at the moment, but will ebb and flow depending on how each game is progressing. The stadium is also in the middle of an expansion, so expect to see a lot of ongoing construction projects. Also of note is that there is a loud cannon placed next to the section for fans of the visiting team.
I'm going to repeat some advice I gave to a Fresno State blog in regards to visiting fans. Piscataway is about halfway between New York City and Philadelphia, but it's closer to NYC. It's a suburban town. Rutgers's campus is split in between two towns - Piscataway, and the more-urban New Brunswick. The latter is where you'll arrive if you come in by train (there is a shuttle bus that will take you to the stadium). New Brunswick is where any visitors will want to go after the game if they want to visit a nice restaurant or just go bar-hopping.
THF: Given the loss to Fresno State how big is this game for Rutgers? Is avoiding an 0-2 start paramount to getting the season on the right track? Is UNC royally screwed because the Scarlet Knights will be amped up coming off the loss?
Bleed Scarlet: Most of the tough conference games are on the road this year, so Rutgers can't afford to drop another game in OOC play. The bad play was not an isolated incident in Schiano's tenure; so one positive is that, based on experience, I think the team will move forward and put the loss behind them.
Rutgers had a chance in the Fresno State game, but the team shot itself in the foot. How exactly should that be judged relative to UNC's game with McNeese St.? Rutgers does have a more-experienced roster than the Tar Heels, along with home field advantage this year, meaning that a loss would come as a major disappointment.
THF: And what in the name of Dick Crum is a Scarlet Knight and where did it come from?
Bleed Scarlet: It's a medieval-themed mascot. Everyone cowers before the Black Knight, but conceivably the Scarlet Knight's armor is drenched in hemoglobin as a result of another successful cavalry assault on a neighboring European lord.
I can take it or leave it. You have to admit though, it's better than "Queensmen" or "Chanticleers", which were the university's previous names for its athletic teams. They would have been better off choosing "Red Lions" (referencing the name of an old tavern in New Brunswick where Rutgers held its first classes), "Flying Dutchmen" (the school was founded by the Dutch Reformed Church of America, and Hofstra isn't using the name any longer), or something that makes light of the Raritan River that cuts through the school's campus.
THF: UNC fans live with a measure of trepidation near the end of every season fearing that Butch Davis might fly the coop. Is it the same at Rutgers or is their a general feeling that Greg Schiano is committed to the long haul?
Bleed Scarlet: Most Rutgers fans don't expect Greg Schiano to leave any time soon. He has made his home at Rutgers at this point, and based on the Fresno State game and a few similar mishaps, perhaps everyone has overestimated the demand for his services. That's not to denigrate the wonderful job he has done reviving the Rutgers program after Terry Shea ran it into the ground.