PISCATAWAY, N.J. - To illustrate coach Greg Schiano's mantra - "Keep on Choppin' " - there's a chopping block in a corner of Rutgers Stadium. Before kickoff, the Scarlet Knights gather around and work themselves into a lather as a teammate buries a hatchet into it.
Despite Rutgers' 31-0 win over Norfolk State in the season opener Thursday night at Rutgers Stadium, the Scarlet Knights better keep wielding that hatchet, because there's work to be done on offense.
Against an overmatched opponent, it took the Scarlet Knights until the third quarter to gain some traction and get their its offense to mesh.
Tom Savage, the sophomore quarterback from Cardinal O'Hara who had such an impressive freshman season, used the opener to get accustomed to a revamped offensive line and new receivers. He'll certainly have bigger games as the season evolves, but he was good enough while completing 10 of 19 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown, a 10-yard completion to the versatile sophomore Mohamed Sanu.
Afterward, Savage, who was sacked three times, admitted to some opening-game jitters.
"Our offense, we're confident, we don't have our heads down," he said. "We're going to be able to come back and play 'Rutgers offense.' I know everything's there, and we'll get this thing turned around and get us going in the right direction for the season."
As the Scarlet Knights' defense smothered the Spartans, Brandon Bing, a senior cornerback from Cheltenham High, helped solidify the win with a blocked punt that resulted in a touchdown and 21-0 lead midway through the third quarter.
"It was really good to see Brandon get one," Schiano said.
One of Rutgers' preseason concerns was its running game and Schiano was determined to establish it against an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division 1-AA, that didn't figure to put up much resistance.
But it wasn't until the second half before the Scarlet Knights' line began punching holes in the Spartans' defense, helping Joe Martinek to pop free for a 35-yard gain to the Norfolk State 6-yard line.
On the next play, Martinek gave Rutgers its first touchdown of the season. After Savage plowed in for a two-point conversion, the Scarlet Knights had a 14-0 lead midway through the third quarter and the crowd of 46,311 finally exhaled.
A little more than two minutes later, the speedy Bing raced in untouched and blocked a punt by Troy Muenzer and it was 21-0 when Joe Lefeged recovered the ball and went three yards for a TD.
The Scarlet Knights ran the ball 50 times for 268 yards.
"We were obviously trying to work on running the football," Schiano said. "Were we stubborn at times? Yeah. But I was glad we kept at it."
As advertised, the Scarlet Knights' deep and seasoned defense was outstanding. Two of their key players were end Alex Silvestro, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound senior from Paulsboro High, and tackle Charlie Noonan, a 6-2, 274-pound senior from St. Joseph's Prep. Noonan serves as a tri-captain.
Silvestro had four tackles for losses, including a sack, as Rutgers held Norfolk State to 156 total yards, 25 on the ground.
"The defense was lights-out," Schiano said.
At the end of the first half, Rutgers San San Te kicked his second field goal, a 20-yarder, for a 6-0 lead, after the officials put one second back on the clock following a Savage-to-Sanu completion at the Norfolk State 3-yard line.