The season opener is so close we can taste it. We've gotten a great look at Rutgers' offense and defense from Brian Anderson, who broke down each of those units in painstaking detail.
Now let's get a look at the Scarlet Knights from the perspective of their fans, courtesy of our SB Nation brethren at On The Banks. The answers are courtesy of Kevin Recio; I also went ahead and put my answers to his questions at the end.
CougCenter: How confident is the fanbase in Gary Nova? Does he have a short leash this season? It seems like you have a semi-local youngster that people are excited about in Laviano.
On The Banks: It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Nova would get the nod. His wealth of experience paid dividends in the offseason, and there wasn't really any question that he would start week one, especially with weak spring game performances from Laviano and the third-string QB Mike Bimonte. Training camp has raised the confidence of most fans, as Gary has really worked on his game, but it's the arrival of Ralph Friedgen that has everyone truly excited. The Fridge's resume speaks for itself, and he's the perfect candidate to fix the offense.
CougCenter: What about your former defensive coordinator made the secondary such a liability last season? How do you see Joe Rossi correcting it?
On The Banks: It was a combination of scheme and player experience. The 2012 secondary had six players leave for the NFL, leaving a very green unit that struggled against a lot of pass-happy offenses. Furthermore, Dave Cohen tended to let opposing receivers run wild without any press coverage to disrupt timing of offenses in an attempt to limit big plays, but the gameplan consequently turned slant routes into 20-yard gains. A disappointing pass rush didn't really help either, and it made for a terrible situation for Rutgers on defense. Joe Rossi, at 35 years old, injects some new energy into the group and is looking to bring the unit back to its aggressive roots. With the younger players getting more experience, and a better pass rush from the line and the linebackers, RU should do much better against the pass in 2014.
CougCenter: What do you think the biggest change will be for the team shifting from the American to the Big Ten? How excited are Rutgers fans to that kind of quality week in and week out?
On The Banks: Probably the biggest change will be the talent level. Ohio State and Michigan always recruit well, and Penn State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin are getting better. Rutgers fans thought the B1G would really help out recruiting, but we haven't seen the full benefit yet. Instead, other coaches have used Kyle Flood's uncertain future as a negative recruiting tactic to steal some of Jersey's top prospects.
There's also a change in playing styles as well. The American had a lot of spread offenses, while the Big Ten still plays sort of a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust style. The latter suits Rutgers better, so the program fits in nicely with some of the establishment there.
CougCenter: Rutgers has faced spread offenses before, have they ever faced something like the Air Raid, with 10 legitimate receivers? What do you see the defense doing schematically to defend it?
On The Banks: In last year's season opener, the Knights traveled to Fresno to take on Derek Carr, leading to a 51-52 barnburner and 73 pass attempts by Carr. The Rutgers offense was able to keep up, but the defense definitely struggled. This year, I suspect the defense to engage in more press coverage with bump-and-run at the line of scrimmage. The real difference though might be in the offense. Last year, Rutgers did little to slow down their own tempo in an attempt to limit the touches for Derek Carr and the Bulldog offense. Against the Cougars, I expect RU to utilize the run more to control the time of possession.
CougCenter: Know if many in your fanbase is making the trip to Seattle?
On The Banks: So far, Rutgers has sold 856 tickets of the 3000 allotment, which doesn't include the number of people who are buying from the secondary market. The few west coast fans who visit OtB have announced they'll be going, so I assume only fans who are somewhat local to the game are making the trip.
On The Banks: What is the sentiment on Mike Leach? The Air Raid guru seems to have found the perfect place in Pullman, WA. Are fans universally happy with him as head coach?
CougCenter: Outside of a rocky first year and some mild criticism of his clock management skills which led in part to the epic collapse against Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl, fans are very pleased to have Mike Leach as our coach. He's raised the talent level and expectations significantly in two years, which is exactly what he was brought in to do. The program is definitely on the upswing, and people are excited.
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On The Banks: The offense gets most of the spotlight, but what about the defense? What can you tell me about scheme and style, as well as marquee players?
CougCenter: Well, the offense gets most of the spotlight because it returns nearly all of its skill players and should hit the ground running right out of the gate. The same can't be said of the defense, which is replacing four players in the secondary, including All-American Deone Bucannon, a first round pick of the Arizona Cardinals. The front seven return most of the important pieces, however, and Cougar fans are hoping that will be enough to cover up for the inexperience in the back end. A couple of guys to keep an eye on are defensive tackle Xavier Cooper, who is a disruptive force in the interior, and middle linebacker Darryl Monroe, who is a thumper. Lead blockers beware!
On The Banks: What is something that might surprise Rutgers fans on gameday that won't surprise Wazzu fans?
CougCenter: Just how much the Cougs are going to pass the ball, and just how explosive the offense is, particularly the wide receivers. WSU brings talented guys at opponents in waves, and beyond that, these guys have a familiarity that should allow them to hit the ground running in this game. This is Connor Halliday's third year in the Air Raid, and he's likely ready to turn defenses into his personal playground. Expect him to throw it 60 times to eight or nine different receivers.
On The Banks: Can you explain the story behind the Washington State Cougar flags that are at every College GameDay site?
CougCenter: Back in the early 2000s, when WSU was winning a lot of football games, some fans decided they would try to lure GameDay to Pullman by flying a flag on the set. It just took off from there. More on the story here: http://washingtonstate.scout.com/story/196503-the-ol-crimson-booster-club