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Rutgers Faces Tough Test In Season Opener Against Fresno State

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Rutgers coach Kyle Flood (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Rutgers’ revamped defense is in for a quite a stern test in the season opener.

The Scarlet Knights lost five starters on the back seven from a year ago and the new group gets little time to ease into the job as Rutgers opens the season against Derek Carr and Fresno State on Thursday night.

The Bulldogs had one of the nation’s top passing attacks a year ago, led by Carr and wide receiver Davante Adams, who had 102 catches and 14 touchdowns.

“They’re a team that wants to push the ball down the field and they’ve got the right quarterback to do it,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “He’s got a great arm and he’s a very accurate passer.”

Rutgers is hoping the experience of graduate transfer Lew Toler, who started 36 of the last 37 games at Western Michigan, will be a big help.

“I’m just trying to contribute to the team the best way I can with all the opportunities given to me,” Toler said earlier this month. “And I just want to put myself in the best position to (succeed).”

Here are five things to watch when Fresno State hosts Rutgers:

1. DRIVING THE CARR: The Bulldogs are led by their senior quarterback, who threw for a Mountain West record 4,104 yards last season with 37 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Derek Carr needs just 90 yards passing to surpass his brother, former No. 1 overall pick David, for fourth place on the school list and 3,049 yards passing to break Kevin Sweeney’s career record at Fresno State. Derek Carr has most of his top targets back, including Adams, Isaiah Burse (57 receptions, 6 TDs) and tight end Marcel Jensen (20 receptions, 4 TDs).

2. SEARCHING FOR SUPER NOVA: The Scarlet Knights hope to get the Gary Nova from the first half of last season instead of the struggling quarterback at the end of 2012. Nova completed 61.2 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions as Rutgers got off to a 7-0 start. Those numbers plummeted the second half of the season when he completed just 52.4 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions as the Scarlet Knights lost four of their final six games. Nova rededicated himself in the offseason, losing 20 pounds and revamping his throwing motion.

3. TURNOVER TIME: The major reason for the turnaround at Fresno State last year under new coach Tim DeRuyter was the ability to generate turnovers. After ranking last in the nation with just nine turnovers forced in 2011, the Bulldogs were fifth in FBS last season with 35 – the biggest improvement for any FBS team since at least 2000. Fresno State also had eight defensive touchdowns. Leading the way is S Derron Smith, who had six interceptions last season and was picked as the preseason Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.

4. GOING DEEP: Rutgers receiver Brandon Coleman has been an impressive deep threat his first two seasons, averaging 21.2 yards per catch. Ten of his 16 career touchdowns have gone for at least 30 yards and he is averaging 39.1 yards on his touchdowns. Coleman had 10 TD catches last season to tie Marco Battaglia’s single-season school record.

5. HOME COOKING: The Bulldogs went 6-0 at home last year, outscoring opponents by 31.7 points per game. The offense was particularly dangerous at Bulldog Stadium, averaging 550.5 yards per game. Fresno State should get a boost with the late starting time (7:30 p.m. PDT), which should make life even tougher for a team from the East Coast like Rutgers, one of the best journalism schools in the U.S. The Scarlet Knights are opening a season in California for only the second time, having lost at Cal in 1999.

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