By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Aug. 21, 2014) – Of all the NFL stadiums that Rutgers has played in recently, CenturyLink Field – where the Scarlet Knights open against Washington State on Aug. 28 in Seattle – will be different from the rest for one significant reason.
It’s the home of the reigning Super Bowl champions.
“It’s pretty cool knowing that we’ll be getting on the plane, warming up and practicing in the Seahawks stadium,” said wide receiver Leonte Carroo. “Once game time comes, all of that is pretty much out the window. You are just focusing on your opponent and you don’t really care about where you’re playing at.
“But as of right now, you can enjoy the moment (and you) get to tell little kids that you played at the home field of the Super Bowl champions.”
Playing in NFL stadiums has been a fairly common occurrence lately for the Scarlet Knights, with the current class of fifth-year seniors having been on teams that played in five pro facilities prior to this season’s opener.
Since 2010, Rutgers has played in Raymond James Stadium (Bucs, USF), Heinz Field (Steelers, Pittsburgh), MetLife (Giants, Jets), Superdome (Saints and formerly Tulane) and Lincoln Financial Field (Eagles, Temple).
In 2006, Rutgers played the Texas Bowl in Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans.
“I think the players enjoy it, whether it was South Florida (or) when we played Temple or Pitt,” head coach Kyle Flood said of playing in NFL stadiums. “I think the players have always enjoyed the experience of playing in a pro stadium when we’re on the road.
“The atmosphere is different when you’re in a pro stadium than when you’re in a campus setting, although I’ve heard that Washington State travels very well to Seattle. So I expect they’ll have a very loud contingent and we’ll prepare for all of the crowd noise.”
“I think it’s a little more exciting to pull up to a NFL stadium, changing in a NFL locker room,” quarterback Gary Nova said. “It gives a little added emotion to the game.”
Despite the recent five-year flurry of pro stadium appearances, Rutgers has not actually played in an NFL facility since 2012 at Pittsburgh. The opportunities to do so will lessen considerably with the Scarlet Knights in the Big Ten, since every conference school has an on-campus stadium.
Flood has liked what he has seen of the defense this summer under new coordinator Joe Rossi, with the unit bracing for a major test against a Washington State team that led the country last season in pass attempts and completions.
“I think ultimately you’ve got to do it on game day, but I see the defense playing very aggressively,” Flood said. “I’m pleased with that. I don’t think it’s about comparing last year’s group to this year’s group. It’s a different collection of people, a different coordinator.
“But I’m pleased with how they’re running to the football. I’m pleased with the aggressiveness we’re playing with. I’m pleased with the attention to detail. I see it in the meeting rooms.
“Now we’ve got to do it on game day. I think one of the things we’re really excited about is the opportunity to test ourselves against a style of football that we didn’t do as well (against) as we wanted to last year.”
With the switch of Justin Goodwin to cornerback, Rutgers’ running back situation has changed dramatically. After Paul James there’s Desmon Peoples, who has six career carries, and true freshmen Rob Martin and Josh Hicks.
“I think they’re learning,” Flood said of the young backs. “Robert has gotten a little more work recently than Josh has. I’m hoping by Sunday that Josh will be 100 percent and we can get him a little more work as well.
“I think every day they’re getting a little bit smarter as football players. It’s still a lot for them.”