Fourth and ten. 35 seconds left to go in the game. The former rivals are about to pull off an embarrassing upset for the home crowd. Gary Nova, the beleaguered quarterback who had to fight for his starting job back, launches a pass that will decide the game. As the ball leaves his hand, Nova is crushed by an oncoming defender. The ball sails gracefully into the hands of the sprinting Leonte Carroo, who glides into the endzone to put the Scarlet Knights ahead of the team from down the Turnpike. Rutgers holds on for half a minute, sealing the win and ascending to 5-3 overall.
It was a dream scenario for Nova. The game was in his hands, and he can silence his critics with one fateful pass to show everyone that he has what it takes to lead this team. He ended up finishing the game 27 for 38 (69%) for 371 yards and three touchdowns. The biggest statistic? ZERO interceptions. In fact, the lone turnover came from the usually sure handed Justin Goodwin. So that's it, right? Criticism gone? Gary Nova is now the guy again?
Not quite. Let's remember who was playing defense. Temple brought the 121st-ranked pass defense into High Point Solutions Stadium, giving up a generous 316 yards per game. Not exactly a shutdown secondary. Before we continue this bashfest of Nova, let's give credit where credit is due. Nova was much improved reading defenses today. He made the necessary checks before the snap to give his offensive linemen assignments for oncoming pass rushers. The junior quarterback was more decisive in his throws, hitting many of his receivers right in the numbers, where only the receiver could catch it (the receivers had a great day as well).
Still, there were some disappointing aspects of his game. Nova had a rough day in terms of clock management. Several snaps were very close to delay of game penalties. The drive in the first half that made it all the way to the one-yard line was a travesty in terms of management, both on the quarterback and the coaches. Two consecutive illegal procedure penalties, a 12 men in the huddle penalty, and a negative play turned a sure touchdown into a nailbiter field goal. Nova still looks like he has the yips in the pocket, a quality that is alarming for a junior quarterback with over 20 starts to his name. He also takes too long to get the pass off, putting a heavy strain on his offensive line.
These criticisms might sound like nitpicking, and it's possible that it is. Nova had a fine day slinging the rock, and he came through once again to rally the Knights for a fourth-quarter comeback. But, this performance begs the question: how long until Gary Turnover rears his ugly head again? For every Arkansas or Temple performance (Rutgers should seriously consider getting these schools on the schedule every year), there are two horrendous performances filled with head-scratching decision-making. Today's performance definitely quieted the critics a bit, but the reality is that it only bought Gary Nova more time until his next bad performance. Not every team remaining on the schedule is 1-7, starting a true freshman at quarterback.
How did the rest of the team perform? The running game was not in its usual form today, with Justin Goodwin only netting 60 yards on 20 carries. The wide receivers, on the other hand, really helped out their QB. You could really tell they were in sync with Nova, unlike the past couple of weeks where the throw went about 10 yards in the opposite direction of the targeted receiver. Leonte Carroo is assuming the role of comeback kid for Rutgers, once again catching a go-ahead fourth quarter touchdown pass.
The defense had an okay day, and when the offense is clicking like it was during the latter half of the game, that's all you really need to ask for. It was great to see the unit come away with two picks, something the defense has struggled to do all season. Coverage on Temple's receivers was solid, and coincidentally the front seven did a wonderful job of containing P.J. Walker on quarterback scrambles. The run defense seems to be regressing a bit, but it's worth the trade-off if it means pass coverage improves.
Special teams had a terrible day today. Nick Marsh was all over the place on punts, shanking one from his own endzone and getting a touchback on another from midfield instead of pinning inside the 20. Federico really struggled with the kicking game, missing a PAT and another field goal.
Reading this recap might seem like Rutgers lost the game, and that's a shame. It was a great effort today and a truly dramatic win that ignited the crowd. But don't let Kyle Flood pull the jaded curtain over your eyes and make you feel confident with this team. There is still a lot of work to do, and most likely some end of season changes to be made. His job is most likely safe heading into the B1G, but his assistants are another story. The key here is to use whatever momentum gained from this comeback win and have a productive bye week to assess the state of the team.
What do you think? Is the start of something good for the Scarlet Knights, or just a dramatic win? Leave your thoughts and comments below.