3rd and goal, 28 seconds left in the half. After an improbable drive featuring a micrometer-close sideline catch, a wild shovel pass and a slew of big plays, Gary Nova stares down the defense.
His team is down 17-12 to the Michigan University Wolverines. A team full of premier athletes and premier coaches. The winningest program in college football history. Looking across the line, he stares down a hoard of massive, athletic players.
Gone are the days of squaring off against under-recruited, undersized linemen from the AAC. This is the Big Ten. This is big D-Lines and premier athletes. This is a run defense that has thus far dominated Rutgers in the trenches and took every blow the pass offense could throw.
Score now and go into halftime with momentum. Kick a field goal and lose it. In the end, that 4 point swing would be the deciding factor in the game.
If you were Kyle Flood, what would you do here? Pay it safe, run it for a yard or two and kick for three? Throw a pass into the end zone, risking a turnover or worse?
If we've learned anything from Flood this season, it's that he's willing to gamble...and gamble he does.
Flood and Friedgen send out the Knights in a one back, trips right formation. TE Tyler Kroft is split wide, John Tsimis is in the slot. On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan comes out in an exotic formation. Pre-snap, Defensive End Frank Clark starts almost in the safety position, with both safeties hugging the line.
Just before the snap, Clark sneaks up to the line, with the strong side safety creeping back. Nova calls for the snap and Clark times it perfectly. In an instant, he is through the line, bearing down on Nova before the back can cut across to provide assistance.
Justin Goodwin, assigned to pick up the blitz, incorrectly reads the outside blitzer as the primary threat, and Nova is left on an island against the 6'4" 265 lb senior.
Nova backpedals, looking for a receiver. Short, quick steps, eyes downfield. No panic, just urgent movement. Clark closes on Nova. He has him dead to rights.
Somehow, someway, Nova eludes Clark with a perfectly timed stiff-arm and sidestep. In an instant, he squares his shoulders down the field, shifts his momentum forward and launches an absolute missile low to the end zone.
Editor's note: How? How in the world did he get that kind of velocity on the ball? Watch the reply. It's remarkable.
At this point, Rutgers has averted disaster. A big sack would have put them in long field goal range. If this pass isn't complete, the best case scenario is going into the half down 17-15, a score we know would not achieve victory.
What happens? Does the pass end up in a defender's hands; the result of another riverboat gamble by Nova? Does the pass tip out of the back of the end zone; too much heat on it to be corralled? Does a Rutgers receiver make a huge play to dig the pass out of the turf?
Touchdown. Nova to Tsimis, who makes an incredible catch to complement Nova's incredible throw. The crowd goes absolutely bonkers and Rutgers goes into the half up 19-17. You know how the rest plays out.
Rutgers beats Michigan 26-24; by two points. If RU settles for a field goal going into the half, all probability indicates a 24-22 Michigan win.
Nova threw a risky pass. Flood and The Fridge made a risky call. That said, there are times when you risk it all; when you send everything you have at the opponent, in the hopes of turning the tide to victory. Rutgers did just that and the gamble paid off in one of the biggest wins in over a century of football at The State University of New Jersey.
The Knights are off this week before travelling to one of the storied venues in college football history, Ohio Stadium, to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Onward to victory Knights!