On the grounds surrounding the stadium, canopies covering radio talk-show chatterboxes sprouted like mushrooms. Plumes of smoke rose from the grills of tailgaters three hours before kickoff. Tents swelled with scarlet-clad revelers, and potential recruits looked on as fans roared at the sight of the team bus arriving.
Nothing resembled the dreary pall that gripped the stadium in 2002.
On the field, the 16th-ranked Scarlet Knights showed Buffalo what all the fuss was about, opening this season of so much promise with a dominating 38-3 win in front of 43,091 spectators, the third-largest crowd in stadium history.
"It was great to see the stadium sold out, to see it in game one," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "It used to be a good crowd when they came to see somebody else play. I told our players, 'They came to see you.' "
As expected, Rutgers gave Buffalo a heavy dose of Ray Rice. The Heisman Trophy contender propelled the Scarlet Knights to a 21-0 first-quarter lead with two of his three touchdowns and 78 of his 184 rushing yards. The 21 points were the most Rutgers had scored in the first quarter since Sept. 27, 1980, against Princeton.
Rice, a junior, blended quickness with power to surpass 3,000 career yards and move into second place on Rutgers' career rushing list. He finished the game 116 yards off the record of 3,114, held by Terrell Willis.
But overmatched Buffalo had to deal with more than Rice. Tiquan Underwood, who had 290 yards in receptions for the season last year, set a school record with 248 yards on 10 catches, with touchdown grabs of 65 and 66 yards. And quarterback Mike Teel was needle-sharp, completing 16 of 23 throws for 328 yards and two touchdown, with no interceptions.
Teel, a junior, didn't concern defenses with his arm until late last season, but his progress as a passer should add new dimensions to the offense, which rolled up 563 yards. The Scarlet Knights didn't gain more than 500 yards in a game last season, when they went 11-2 and finished 12th in the polls.
"Offensively, certainly we were very explosive," Schiano said. "I thought the offensive line gave Mike time and he did an excellent job. For an opener, it was a good start. There was some exciting football."
Rutgers immediately showed its superiority when Kordell Young, a swift little sophomore from West Deptford High School, took the season's opening kickoff and ran it 56 yards. Three plays later, Rice raced 34 yards untouched up the middle for his first touchdown.
"I thought the opening kickoff with Kordell was a great way to start it," Schiano said. "Hopefully, that foreshadows the rest of the year."
The Scarlet Knights scored on their next two possessions, with Rice getting another touchdown and Underwood running the final 25 yards of a 65-yard scoring play from Teel, practically corkscrewing cornerback Kendric Hawkins into the ground with zigs and zags.
Although Kenny Britt is regarded as the Scarlet Knights' most dangerous receiver, Underwood roamed free in the Buffalo secondary for most of the game, and Teel easily found him after luring in the defenders with play-action fakes to Rice.
"Ti is an exceptional athlete and he made some great catches," Schiano said. "The way Buffalo played defense freed up Ti. We had some plays for Kenny but ended up going to Ti. You don't want to force it."
The game was the first time Rutgers opened a season at home since 2004. The Scarlet Knights extended their home winning streak to eight.
Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.