Game time: 6:30 p.m. ET; Sept. 2, 2021
Venue: SHI Stadium, Piscataway, NJ
Where to watch: BTN
Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks
William Hill: Rutgers -13.5; O/U 51.5
2020 season record
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Temple - Rutgers preview and analysis
The growing pains for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the Big Ten may still be on the horizon, but there are at least some reasons to feel optimistic.
And the first sign of hope is the return to SHI Stadium for the season opener for Rutgers as it welcomes the Temple Owls on Thursday.
The shortened seasons in 2020 were especially not kind to the smaller, rebuilding programs. Rutgers was no exception. The Scarlet Knights went 3-6 in the second go-round with Greg Schiano as head coach. Their three wins all came on the road against Michigan State, Purdue and Maryland. That tied the most they’ve had since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
Perhaps getting back to regular routine will help the Knights play better at home; they lost all six home games for their sixth consecutive losing season. Rutgers hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2014.
This is going to be a familiar group coming back to Rutgers in 2021. Schiano returns 20 starters, with 11 of them who played in all games last season. That includes defensive leader and Butkus Award candidate linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi, and last year’s top receiver Bo Melton. Under center for Rutgers will be senior quarterback Noah Vedral, the Knights’ leading passer from 2020.
The quarterback situation is a tad different at Temple, as the Owls look to put the COVID-shortened season behind them and get back to the string of bowl success they had for the previous five seasons.
Former Georgia quarterback D’Wan Mathis will be the No. 1 quarterback for the Owls after a scary time with the Bulldogs. A surgery on a brain cyst kept Mathis away from much contact in 2019, but was named the starter in the season opener for Georgian in 2020. He was eventually benched in favor of Stetson Bennett.
But Mathis comes to Temple not as much of a passer, but more of a scrambler under center. Mathis was only 8-of-17 for 55 yards in 2020 as a redshirt freshman. The former Oak Park (Michigan) quarterback threw for over 3,000 yards as a junior, so he’s capable of having that strong arm.
Temple: Not many successful programs were bit with bad luck like the Owls were. Rod Carey’s group averaged only 19.9 points per game; they scored a season-high 39 points last October for their only victory, 39-37 at home against South Florida. Other than their season opener at Navy, the Owls lost every other game by at least two scores.
Rutgers: The Knights’ offense was the best its been as a member of the Big Ten, scoring 26.7 points per game (5.5 points better than their previous best in 2015). Rutgers was the fourth-most improved offense in the country in 2020, scoring 13.4 points more per game in the shortened season. Schiano has them going in the right direction offensively.
Temple: Defense was not the calling card for either of these programs in 2020, most notably Temple. The Owls gave up 37.1 points per game; only 17 programs gave up more points than Temple.
Rutgers: While Rutgers wasn’t any better (allowing 32.1 points per game), the Knights caused 19 turnovers last season, their most since 2012, and 10 more than 2019. They also led the conference with 7.8 tackles for loss per game.
The uncertainty with Mathis isn’t something I’d take lightly in Week 1. Temple will get back to bowl glory soon enough, but this is a veteran Rutgers team that has a lot to prove with Schiano at the helm for Year 2. The question is whether or not to take the points with Temple, if it’ll be a close game. Straight up, though, Rutgers is the right choice. Scarlet Knights win 45-31.
The series record is 7-7 against the spread in their last 14 contests.
Rutgers has won 10 of the last 15 meetings straight up, and 6-2 against Temple at home in the last eight.
Players to watch
Temple: Mathis is a great story and the fact he’s leading this team is a great sign. If he can show that improved accuracy, it might be a tough out in the early going.
Rutgers: Fatukasi is a terror no matter where he lines up. He’s a tackling machine, but send him on a blitz and he can wreak havoc. Fatukasi led Rutgers with 90 tackles a year ago, but expect Schiano to send him to the quarterback more and bump up those sack numbers.
Statistical leaders from 2020
Passing: Anthony Russo -- 868 yards, 9 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Re’Mahn Davis -- 323 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Jadan Blue -- 381 yards, 5 TD
Defense: Arnold Ebitketie -- 4 sacks
Passing: Noah Vedral -- 1,253 yards, 9 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: Isaih Pacheco -- 515 yards, 3 TD
Receiving: Bo Melton -- 638 yards, 6 TD
Defense: Olakunle Fatukasi -- 90 tackles, 3 sacks; Christian Izien -- 4 INT
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