If it's a shootout you want, then Rutgers fans can rest easy with Gary Nova at quarterback. For the second time this season, the junior signal-caller led the Scarlet Knights on late scoring drives to rally Rutgers back into the game. Only this time, RU came out on top. It was an absolutely incredible game, and the perfect opportunity to showcase Rutgers on the national stage. Take a look at the highlights:
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Whether it was the concussion or nerves, Nova was visibly off after the first two drives of the game. He threw passes nowhere near his receivers and should have had two additional interceptions after his horrendous pick six. Regardless, you have to give him credit. Besides Janarion Grant and his electrifying punt returns, Nova put the team on his back and roasted the Hogs in a game for the ages. If you take a look at the highlights, you can see Nova insert throws like a surgeon into some of the tightest windows, while anticipating his receiver in open space. Heady stuff for a guy who suffered a concussion a week earlier and was crushed on several hits earlier in the game. With Gary at quarterback, Rutgers will always have a chance, as long as the defense can come up with stops when they need to.
Speaking of the defense, you can call this game a coming of age tale for the young guns in the back seven. Take away all of the trick plays, and this was a complete game by the Scarlet Knight defense. Quentin Gause filled in better than you could have hoped for senior LB Jamal Merrell, and the defensive line filled in all of the gaps to completely stuff the Arkansas run game. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams have both rushed for 100 yards in the previous three games, and Rutgers gave up 88 total yards combined to the two backs. And while AJ Derby is not Teddy Bridgewater, the RU secondary showed some real mettle defending the pass late in the game. There were some blown coverages, namely freshman Nadir Barnwell giving up a defendable touchdown and safety Lorenzo Waters blowing coverage on the halfback pass. These are plays that expose the greenery of the secondary, but I truly believe this game served as a great learning experience for a young defensive corps.
The game was not without its tragedies, however. Paul James was injured in the second half, re-entered the game after being looked at by the medical staff, and then injured his ankle even more. All of this means that the nation's leading rusher entering week four will miss a couple of weeks, and certainly the Louisville game on Thursday night. James was very effective on Saturday, rushing for 80 yards on 17 carries against SEC talent (SEC SPEEEEEEED). If Savon Huggins wanted his second chance to prove his worth, now is the time. He better make the most of this opportunity, because a talented Justin Goodwin is waiting in the wings. And if you think getting beat by a former walk-on is spirit-crushing, imagine how it will feel to have a true freshman out-rush you.
- Regarding the odd play-calling at the end, Kyle Flood claims that he needed to start with a running play since he didn't have the time left needed for victory formation. Rutgers was under two minutes at that point, so I believe that he could have started with victory formation, and Flood actually acknowledged that he should have done so.
- Brandon Coleman actually sat out during some key downs, most notably on a key third down late in the game. Not sure what the coaches are thinking there, but he was covered pretty well for most of the game.
- It's almost as if every game sees a new player have a career day, and Saturday was Tyler Kroft's turn. The TE received high praise from Coach Flood, who thinks that Kroft is getting much better at run blocking.
- Gotta love Leonte Carroo. It's hard not to see the relationship manifest itself on the field between the wideout and Gary Nova, and I think that connection will pay dividends this season and next.
- Janarion Grant is making the case for returner of the year. We've seen that he not only has the speed to beat the coverage, but the vision to break into the next level.
After four weeks, Rutgers has performed as expected in out-of-conference play, going 3-1. The less-than-competitive American Athletic Conference is now front and center, and the key will be to manage expectations after an emotional win.