How Nico Flores plays?
Yeah, I've been harping on Flores a lot early on, but the quarterback is kind of important. Even if Flores plays great, it’s against Virginia State and it doesn’t guarantee success, but he can allay at least some of the concerns with a solid performance. But if he struggles, fumbles and makes poor decision against an over-matched opponent, he’s going to have major problems going against an equal. The big thing will be watching how he handles pressure, blitzes and whether his mechanics hold up in game situations. There are times he slips into bad habits.
How will the running game fare?
Norfolk State pretty much faked a run game last year with the spread. It left opponents thin on defenders in the box, allowing NSU to run the ball well between the 30s, but making it difficult the closer the Spartans got to the end zone. Norfolk State ran it enough to keep opponents honest. The game-plan this season calls for a power-run game. If the Spartans can’t do it against Virginia State, they can't expect to be able to do it against anyone.
How will the secondary play?
Virginia State hasn’t been able to run the ball against Norfolk State for years (20 attempts for 30 yards in 2011). The Spartans’ front seven is the strength of its defense again. Nothing will change there. That means the Trojans will throw it, and NSU’s secondary will face its first test of the season, one it should pass with no problem. Like Flores and the run game, though, a poor performance could indicate future issues.
How early will NSU shake up Virginia State?
The past couple of years the Spartans have put a licking on quarterback Jarred Battle early and put the fear of more severe hits into his head. It should happen again. The big question is how early, and how rattled Battle will get. He completed 17-of-31 passes for 131 yards and an interception last year. For a heavy underdog to have any chance they have to hang around early and hope the favorites feel pressure as time goes on. The Spartans want Battle to feel the pressure often.
How big will the crowd be?
I’ve written it before – and it’s easy to say as a sportswriter from New England who has no emotional ties to the CIAA days – but I don’t believe the series with Virginia State helps NSU very much. There are too many cupcake games in the MEAC for NSU to start its season with an extra one. The Spartans, and the MEAC, will be better served by generating respect and playing opponents at their level, something NSU will do next week against Liberty. That said, if the fans flock to Dick Price Stadium in huge numbers, and the gate helps boost athletic department revenues, who am I to argue? The department does need money to run.