Piscataway, N.J. — In its first journey as a full-fledged member of the Division 1 FCS, North Carolina Central University experienced a few bumps in the road Thursday night.
The Eagles managed only 120 total yards, committed four turnovers and nine penalties in a 48-0 loss to Rutgers at High Point Solutions Stadium before 40,061. It was the first shutout suffered by NCCU since Winston-Salem State claimed a 47-0 win in 2003.
The Eagles were a re-classified member of the NCAAs Division 1 since 2007, meaning they were not eligible for bowl games, statistics were not recognized by the NCAA and players could not receive post-season awards. They were also provisional members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) operating with similar constraints to the NCAA.
Rutgers is now 8-0 against MEAC opponents, defeating Morgan State three times, Norfolk State and Howard twice each and NCCU.
The one-sided loss was brightened by a guaranteed $400,000 NCCU received from Rutgers for playing the game. The Scarlet Knights were selected to finish last in the BigEast by the conference coaches in the pre-season poll.
It was evident early on that NCCU was overmatched. The Eagles ran 11 plays in the first quarter, accumulating just 20 yards while not recording a first down. Coach Henry Fraziers team didnt pick up a first down until 5:58 was left in the first half.
Senior quarterback Michael Johnson was constantly under pressure, operating behind an offensive line that averaged 299 pounds, but was out-muscled by a lighter, quicker Rutgers front four. Johnson was sacked five times in the first half as the Eagles crossed midfield on only one occasion late in the second quarter, getting to the 29. The drive ended when Johnson was intercepted over the middle with 10 seconds left in the half.
Johnson completed 10 of 25 passes for 88 yards before giving way to sophomore Jordan Reid midway through the third quarter. Rutgers built a 21-0 halftime advantage, converting on all three of its red-zone opportunities.
True freshman Savon Huggins scored on a one-yard run with 38 seconds left in the first quarter and scampered seven yards for a TD at the 8:58 mark of the second. Mohamed Sanu closed out the scoring in the half, hauling in a 13-yard pass from Chas Dodd with 1:30 to play. The Eagles averaged only 2.29 yards a play in the half.
The Eagles running game produced just eight net yards on 30 carries for the game. The longest run was 19 yards by freshman Andre Clark.
The second half was dominated by Rutgers. It scored three touchdowns in the span of just under three minutes in the third quarter. The Eagles landed in Rutgers territory only twice over the last two quarters.
Rutgers picked up 20 first downs compared to eight for NCCU, which ended the night averaging two yards a play. The Eagles punter, Mathew Cornelius, was the busiest man on the field. The sophomore punted nine times for an average of 30.1 yards.