By Dylan Mruczinski
Up and down.
Then up again.
Down once more.
Up and up.
This poetic sequence of up and downs seems to depict Gary Nova’s career as a four-year starter at Rutgers. Nova has been forever criticized by the energetic media hub that is the Tri-State area, yet has remained tough this season in his effort to regain confidence and put forth his best play that every football fan knows he is capable of.
The senior QB out of Elmwood Park, NJ is looking to lead the Scarlet Knights to their fourth straight bowl berth, 10th postseason visit all time, and first as a member of the Big Ten. Heading into the 2nd half of the 2014 season, Nova understands his role as a leader and his importance to this Rutgers offense that has averaged 426.7 ypg so far that has Rutgers on pace for its best offensive production since the 2008 season.
With a 5-1 record and only in-conference games left to play, Gary Nova (other than a turnover-ridden performance against Penn State) has been borderline flawless as the quarterback of New Jersey’s team. Nova’s statistics tell the tale of the major jump he has made this season. His completion percentage is currently 62%, up 5% since his 2012 career high. While completing more passes and in turn making better decisions when throwing, Nova has not sacrificed the ability to gain yards through the air which typically occurs when quarterbacks see their completion percentage rise. His yards per attempt (10.67 YPA) is up over 3.5 yards from his previous 3 year total. The Rutgers faithful have fallen in love with the crisp 15-yard in/post route that Nova has perfected, time and time again to his receivers this season that is a major factor in boosting his YPA. Additionally, Nova is on pace to set career highs for passing yards, touchdowns, and QB rating this season.
So what exactly is in Nova’s drinking water this Fall you may ask? Why has he flourished in a year that saw key receivers Ruhann Peele and Andre Patton fall to injuries before the start of the season? Better yet, how is Nova posting career numbers in a year that everybody and their mothers saw as a scheduling death-trap against the Big Ten’s elite schools from both divisions?
The answer may be the influence of his extremely over-qualified Offensive Coordinator, Ralph “The Fridge” Friedgen. No stranger to changes in the playbook, Nova welcomed Friedgen as his fourth offensive coordinator in as many years he has been at Rutgers. The Fridge, who has helped restore Nova’s confidence, will now look to lean on Gary even more late in the season as the running game took a huge hit with the loss of RB Paul James to an ACL tear.
One thing that goes undocumented in the stat books is Friedgen’s influence on Nova’s ability to use his legs. Other improvements in Nova’s game this year include his acknowledgment of the coverage downfield and the tremendous out-of-pocket presence he has exhibited so far in RU’s inaugural Big Ten campaign. Prior to this season, Nova had rushed for 1 touchdown while this year, he already has 3. Nova has also never finished the season with positive rushing yards, due to sacks counting against QB rush yards, one of the NCAA rules that differ from the NFL.
It can be presumed that Friedgen’s offensive mind noticed this in film prior to the season and continues to encourage Nova to ‘tuck it and run’ when the pass downfield is not there. This season may be the year that Nova finally eclipses the 0 rushing yard stat due to his escapability out of the pocket. It seems that Gary Nova is playing at the comfort level in the pocket he showed back at Don Bosco Prep where he won two state championships.
There is no doubt that Gary Nova’s most legacy-determining games are yet to come with a tough three-game stretch against more B1G elite: Ohio State, Nebraska, and the often dreadful homecoming game, this time vs Wisconsin. Perhaps Nova’s most telling game about his progression will be in a visit to East Lansing taking on nations fourth-ranked defense in Michigan State. Nova having already surpassed previous QB and now graduate assistant Mike Teel’s all-time TD record looks to extend the mark against some of the Big Ten’s best. Nova’s toughness might be his best trait, something that is needed to excel at the next level. As one of the top Pro-Style QB recruits in 2011 Gary Nova is now looking to establish himself as one of the best senior signal callers to enter next years 2015 NFL draft. With a strong finish to the season and rising draft stock, don’t be surprised if you wind up hearing Nova’s name called this spring.
Next on Rutgers schedule are the No.13 Ohio State Buckeyes, where prestigious head coach Urban Meyer has already praised Gary Nova’sxceptional play against Michigan this season. “He had the day of days against our rival,” Coach Meyer said at this week’s Big Ten coach teleconference.
If Gary Nova and Rutgers want to continue their success, the senior quarterback is going to have to keep trending up in Columbus.