The Rutgers football team will open its season on Thursday at home against Temple. The game will be the first contest that the Scarlet Knights have played in front of a full stadium of fans in nearly two years.
There is anticipation surrounding the program ahead of this season. Last year, Rutgers finished the season with a 3-6 record under head football coach Greg Schiano. Schiano returned to the Knights last season after coaching the team from 2001-2011.
“(I’m) excited to finally get to play in front of our fans and our stadium,” Schiano said. “It should be a great atmosphere.”
Rutgers is led on offense by senior quarterback Noah Vedral. Now in his second year with the program, Vedral will look to build upon last season where he threw for 1,253 yards and nine touchdowns. Vedral was also 1 of the 6 team captains named for this season.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Vedral said of the Knights’ preseason training camp. “The stuff we’re able to do, the way guys are processing the information is so much faster and so much cleaner than we have been before.”
Vedral is not the only weapon on the Rutgers offense. Senior wide receiver Bo Melton and junior running back Isaih Pacheco will look to improve upon their 2020 campaigns starting with Thursday night’s game. Melton led the Knights in scoring last season while Pacheco led the team in rushing.
“We’re doing very well," Melton said. The Mays Landing, New Jersey native was nominated to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List, an award given out to college football’s top wide receiver. “We’re starting to play as an offense now. We’re just going to keep progressing. Stack good days on good days, and I think that we’re doing that.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the program returns key players at nearly every position. Senior linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi is a member of several preseason award watch lists after a 2020 season in which he led the Big Ten in tackles. Meanwhile, senior defensive back Tre Avery and junior defensive back Christian Izien will look to lead Rutgers in the secondary.
“When you’re comfortable, there’s less thinking, you're more reactive, your athleticism can come through," Schiano said. “I think as the year went along what you saw from some of the guys who were able to stay healthy was a little closer to what they had been at the beginning of the season had we had those other opportunities. We’re looking forward to (Izien) doing some great things.”
Looking at the team that the Knights will face this week, the Owls are coming off a 2020 season in which the program finished 1-6 competing in the American Athletic Conference. Starting at quarterback is Georgia transfer D’Wan Mathis. The Oak Park, Michigan native won the starting job for Temple last spring.
Kickoff on Thursday night is set for 6:30 p.m. and will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network. Rutgers officials recently reported that the game is officially sold out.
“I want to thank Gov. (Phil) Murphy (D-N.J.), declaring New Jersey football week. It's gonna be really exciting," Schiano said. “Everybody get your rain gear out, get your umbrella whatever you need to go. We need to pack that place and make sure that we have a home field advantage when we play at SHI Stadium.”
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