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The Ben McDaniels Era: Another Offensive Coordinator for Rutgers

By Dylan Mruczinski

— Piscataway, New Jersey

Set to become the 6th offensive coordinator in 6 years, Ben McDaniels will be promoted from wide receivers coach to head of the entire offense for the Scarlet Knights in the 2015 season. After one year of the best offensive production since 2008 (390 yards of offense per game), including coaching star player Leonte Carroo to first team All-Big Ten honors, Ben McDaniels is certainly deserving of his new role. In addition to offensive coordinator, McDaniels will be the quarterbacks coach as well.

Coach McDaniels ready for a larger role in the offense.

Coach Ben McDaniels is ready for his larger role in the Rutgers offense.

The decision by head coach Kyle Flood comes after previous offensive coordinator, Ralph Friedgen decided to step down from his position. Friedgen will stay a member of the Rutgers coaching staff but as a special assistant to coach Flood. A string of other staff moves followed, as previous tight ends coach Anthony Campanile will now coach the wide receivers, and former recruiting coordinator Phil Galiano moves to special teams coordinator and tight ends coach. Former Rutgers defensive lineman Scott Vallone will also be added to the staff as a graduate assistant.

McDaniels, who will be 35 come the 2015 season has previous experience as an Offensive Assistant with the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played college football as a quarterback for Kent State and also has his master’s degree in sport management from rival Big Ten foe, The University of Minnesota.

It can be said that coaching high powered and efficient offenses is in the McDaniels family DNA. Ben McDaniels is the younger brother of current New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. He’s also the son of Ohio high school coaching legend Thom McDaniels, who got both Ben and Josh involved in football at a young age.

In essence, with Friedgen still part of the staff and only in-house promotions for the coaching staff, it’s fair to assume a similar offensive game plan for the Scarlet Knights in their sophomore season of Big Ten play. McDaniels’ biggest objective this spring and summer will be to decipher who exactly will be his field general at the quarterback position. LSU transfer QB Hayden Rettig looks promising according to Cincinnati Bengals receiver and former Knight Mohamed Sanu, while QB Chris Laviano has years of experience under coach Flood and was a borderline 4-star recruit out of high school by some scouting outlets.

With a plethora of running backs to occupy the backfield, and the decision of Leonte Carroo to stay for his senior season, McDaniels will have many offensive weapons at his disposal. Look for Ben McDaniels to thrive in his new position and this Rutgers attack to maintain its balance through the air and on the ground.

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HERE COMES THE 2015 CLASS – National Signing Day

By Lance Glinn

 

The Rutgers University Scarlet Knights football program has never been reliant on overhyped 4 or 5 star recruits that have televised press conferences announcing their decision. It’s true that 4 and 5 star players have come to play in Piscataway, New Jersey, Darius Hamilton and Savon Huggins to name a few, but this program is contingent on the 2 and 3 star recruits who over time, will be molded into great players, and the 2015 class, is no different.

This class is very diverse in terms of where the players come from with states such as Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, New York, and Maryland being represented. With a total of 25 commitments, this class adds depth as well as a few impact players on both sides of the ball. Names like Najee Clayton, Marques Ford, and Blessuan Austin highlight the defense will Charles Snorweah, Jack Shutack, and Michael Dare emphasize the offensive side of the ball.

The highest rated player in the class out of East Bay High School in Gibsonton, Florida is of course Under Armour All-American Strong-Side defensive end Marques Ford. A 4 star recruit who originally committed to the University of Tennessee, Ford flipped his commitment to Rutgers after Volunteer head coach Butch Jones pulled his offer due to not enough scholarships being available in Knoxville. The only 4 star recruit this year, Ford is the leader of this class and will be looked upon in the future to help lead and make a significant impact in the future for the Scarlet Knights.

Besides Ford, players like Jarius Adams, a 3 star cornerback out of Florida, and Jack Shutack, a 3 star offensive lineman out of Illinois, spurned big time schools to come to the banks and play for the Scarlet Knights. Adams, announced only a day before national signing day, rejected Michigan and Wisconsin to come play at Rutgers while Shutack declined to attend the University of Tennessee in favor of the Scarlet Knights.

This 2015 class certainly adds depth to the program, as in only year one of the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights have the second most commitments in the conference behind only Ohio State. With 12 defensive commits to go along with 13 on the offense, this class provides a surplus at positions all over the field, especially at the offensive and defensive line as Kyle Flood reeled in 9 commitments to help beef up what were very consistent groups last season.

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This class really took shape as Flood secured various commitments, as signing day grew closer. The class finished very well as Marques Ford, Jack Shutack, Najee Clayton, and Jawuan Harris all committed close to signing day and helped the Scarlet Knights end the 2015 recruiting cycle pleasantly. Going into year 2 of the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights addressed areas of need, most importantly depth, while adding commits that will certainly make significant impacts in the future.

Rutgers to Face North Carolina in Quick Lane Bowl

By Lance Glinn

Leading up to Sunday December 7th, the day the bowl games were going to be announced, the Rutgers football team along with their fans, held their collective breath in hopes that the Scarlet Knights would not be the one Big Ten team snubbed from a bowl game. Earlier in the week, the Big Ten Conference released a statement to all eligible bowl teams saying that one may be left out of a bowl due to the number of bowl spots available and the number of bowl games to fill. Immediately, Rutgers was one of the teams on the hot seat, and needed help to feel their spot was secure.

quick lane bowlThe Scarlet Knights received that sense of security with the help of an SEC team that Rutgers has never played before. When Mississippi State propelled past Michigan State and into the Orange Bowl, all sense of normalcy was restored, and for the 9th time in 10 seasons, Rutgers was going bowling.

Reports and predictions ran rampant throughout the prior weeks, with the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl and the Quick Lane Bowl emerging as the two most likely destinations for the Scarlet Knights. When the official result was announced, Rutgers was headed to Detroit, Michigan to face the North Carolina Tar heels in the Quick Lane Bowl on December 26th.

Tulane v Rutgers

Will Gary Nova be able to end his collegiate career on a high note? (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Playing in the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference, North Carolina finished 6-6 with impressive wins coming against in – state rival Duke, and ACC runner up Georgia Tech. A weak defensive team giving up 39 points per game, the Tar Heels rely on superb play from dual – threat quarterback Marquise Williams who leads the team in both passing and rushing. For Rutgers, the offense led by Gary Nova, needs to build off the historic comeback win against Maryland and continue to score touchdowns when given the opportunity, not field goals, especially against a North Carolina team averaging 35 points per game. The defensive front seven of Rutgers needs to contain Williams within the pocket and force him to transform into a pocket passer.

The Quick Lane Bowl has all the makings of a shootout with both teams having high – octane offenses and mediocre defenses. As both teams struggle to run the ball, whichever team leads in rushing at the end of the game should have the advantage on the scoreboard. Due to the recently formed two–headed monster at running back for Rutgers in Josh Hicks and Robert Martin, the Scarlet Knights will come out victorious in a tight contest, 41-38.

Rutgers has a chance to finish the season strong with an impressive win against an ACC foe. Coverage for the game will start at 3 PM on December 26th, and can be heard on WRSU 88.7 FM and radio.rutgers.edu.

It’s Different Being B1G

By Gabe Sustick

The first regular season in the Big Ten Conference is in the books for Rutgers, and it brought some great moments along the way, but it’s clear that there are still some growing pains for the program to work through.

The Scarlet Knights’ first game of the season began on the west coast against Washington State.  It was a high scoring affair as Rutgers escaped with a 41-38 victory thanks Paul James’ 173 yard 3 touchdown performance.  It was Gary Nova’s first game with new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, having two touchdowns and an interception.  Leonte Carroo also had a good day with 151 yards and a touchdown.   The Knights also saw a large hole in their secondary made by quarterback Connor Halliday who had 533 yards in the air, none the less, a great first win for Rutgers.

Week two brought a feisty Howard team in the first home game against Rutgers, eventually leading to a 38-25 win.  This game once again highlighted by Gary Nova who had 282 yards and four touchdowns, while Paul James added one rushing and two receiving touchdowns.  A good sign that Nova was getting comfortable with the new offense with much tougher teams to come.

The Big Ten debut came for the Scarlet Knights against Penn State at night in High Point Solutions Stadium.  The feeling there was electric as the noise from the crowd never seemed to stop, this was the Big Ten atmosphere Rutgers was looking for.  It was a tough game for Rutgers as Nova gave up five interceptions in the game as the rest of the offense struggled as well.  The defense did everything they could to keep Rutgers in it, but a late game-winning touchdown by PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg to make it 13-10 brought a hush to the Rutgers crowd.  It was a disappointing game for the Scarlet Knights, the chance of getting that first Big Ten win and going 3-0 on the season became a distant dream.

An away game against a tough Navy team helped the Scarlet Knights get back on track with a 31-24 victory.  It was a nice bounce back, but it didn’t come without the loss of Rutgers running back Paul James to an ACL injury.  This would not be the first time Rutgers has been without James in the backfield, but it put into question how the Knights would fare with the running game for the rest of the season.

A dominant performance for the Rutgers in a 31-6 win against Tulane led them to a 4-1 record.  Another showing by Nova who had four touchdowns and one interception in the game, three of those touchdowns going to Carroo with 140 yards as well.  In this game, Nova became the all-time leader in passing touchdowns in school history passing Mike Teel.

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It was quite a celebration when the Scarlet Knights knocked off Michigan for their firs-ever Big Ten win. (Photo Credit: John Munson | NJ Advance Media)

The yearly blackout game was the scene of Rutgers next Big Ten matchup against Michigan, with possibly even more energy than the Penn State game.  It was another back-and-forth battle for the Scarlet Knights through the entire game, forcing the memories of Penn State game out of the fan’s heads.  Nova shined in the game with a career-high 404 yards and three touchdowns, along with an amazing blocked field goal by Kemoko Turray, bringing the first Big Ten win to Piscataway.  A stunning scene ensued as the students swarmed the field to celebrate the victory. There will be criticism of the team Rutgers played, but history was made and it should be celebrated.

The euphoria of the win did not last long as Rutgers was dealt a crushing blow in its first game at the Horseshoe losing 56-17 to Ohio State.  The first game where Rutgers would begin to see some of the growing pains that come with joining the Big Ten.  The defense looked baffled by the dual-threat quarterback J.T. Barrett, and the offense struggled against Ohio State’s stout defense.  Don’t forget that it is Ohio State who was playing really great football at that point in the season, but there is always a lesson to learn.  Rutgers needs to get bigger, that will come with time, but it needs to happen with the new change in conference.

With Nebraska up next, the Scarlet Knights fared better than against Ohio State, yet still fell 42-24.  Another game where Rutgers’ defense was put into question allowing Ameer Abdullah’s 341 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns.  Once again Rutgers facing bigger players than they are accustomed to and the running game not producing since the Paul James injury.  Both this game and the one at Ohio State gave Rutgers a look at Big Ten crowds playing in front of over 90,000 in Nebraska, and 100,000 in Columbus.

Then came the infamous homecoming game against Wisconsin, getting blanked 37-0 for their third loss in a row.  A cold and rainy day added to the pain Rutgers fans had while watching their team falter on both sides of the ball.  The Scarlet Knights, whose defensive line was praised early on in the season, was unable to contain the running game of Heisman hopeful Melvin Gordon who ran for 128 yards and 2 touchdowns.

After a tough losing skid, the Scarlet Knights were able to regain some ground beating Indiana 45-23 to become bowl eligible.  This game was a tale of two halves for Rutgers as they came out in the second half to score five touchdowns.  A game where Rutgers also saw some production from their young running backs in Josh Hicks and Robert Martin, both combining for four touchdowns on the day.

Heading to East Lansing the next week did not help Rutgers, who go trounced by Michigan State 45-3.  Rutgers did not stand a chance against this team, they were outsized and could not make tackles in the open field.  Another time where entering a new conference showed the difficulties teams have to deal with.

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RU grabbed its seventh and final regular season win in comeback fashion against fellow Big Ten newcomer Maryland. (Photo Credit: Nick Wass/Associated Press)

It all came down to a game against Maryland, the other team to join the Big Ten this year.  This game was the difference between a 6-6 and a 7-5 season.  It was also a game between the little brothers of the Big Ten, a game to prove who was better in the eyes of the big brothers.  It did not look good for the Scarlet Knights, looking flat on defense and the offense struggling as well.  After going into the half down 35-17 it looked like the games against Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, but the first drive of the game for Rutgers showed that this was different.  A 71 yard punt return by Janarion Grant gave the Scarlet Knights great field positon and a Martin touchdown three plays later showed that there was still life in the guys in white.  Rutgers took a 41-38 lead with 4:45 left in the game after a Kyle Federico field goal.  A late fumble by Martin that gave Maryland the ball brought the fear into Rutgers fans that everything could end terribly.  But the defense came out and stunned Maryland by stopping them on a fourth and one play to seal the game for Rutgers.  History was made that night as Rutgers made the comeback after being down by their largest deficit of 25 points.  It was Nova’s last regular season game as a Scarlet Knight and he made the most of it with 347 yards and 4 touchdowns and having three receivers with over 100 yards in the air.

That Maryland game seemed to incorporate all of the ups and downs that Rutgers went through the entire year.  In the first half, Rutgers could not stop the run of both the running back and dual threat quarterback, which they had problems with against Nebraska and Ohio State.  Then offensively Rutgers could not get a rhythm going, which was seen in the games against Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State.  Then it got to the second half, and Rutgers showed their perseverance to keep on fighting.  Nova came out with an amazing performance, similar to the Indiana and Michigan games, along with the strong defensive play late to help seal it in the end.

What happened in the Maryland game connects to the thoughts that everyone had on the year for Rutgers.  The end of the first half was similar to the beginning of the season, not having too many expectations for anything big to happen.  The second half evoked the mindset of the fans at the end of the year, amazed at how far and how much this team persevered to get where they are.  A 7-5 season and their ninth bowl appearance in 10 years is something neither the fans nor experts could have predicted.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, this team has a lot of questions and concerns to answer before returning next year.  If anything, this season may have given people more expectations for next year, but that remains to be seen.  But before you start to worry about how the team will do next year, take a step back and appreciate what they did this year.  At the end of the day Rutgers made history, proving many of its doubters wrong.  They are a long way from where they want to be, but they have taken the first step and that’s all that should matter.

The Evolution of Gary Nova

By Dylan Mruczinski

Up and down.

Then up again.

Down again.

Down.

Down.

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.

Nova Mel Evans AP

It seems as if Gary Nova has finally found some consistency: will he be able to keep it up? (Photo: Mel Evans/AP)

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.

Tulane v Rutgers

Photo: Getty Images

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.

Knights Flying High at 5-1

By Dominick Savino

With a Gary Nova kneel down and a quick flip of the football to the referee, the Scarlet Knights’ first half their inaugural season as a B1G-time football team came to a close. Or maybe it was when defensive lineman Kemoko Turay batted down Michigan kicker Matt Wile’s 56-yard field goal attempt in the late stages of the 4th quarter to preserve Rutgers’s lead. Or perhaps it was even at some point during Nova’s career-defining game in which he picked apart the Michigan secondary to the tune of 404 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Regardless, on Saturday night in Piscataway, Rutgers beat Michigan. So yes, Rutgers now has its first win in Big Ten competition. Also yes, Rutgers is 5-1 going into a bye week and the midpoint of the season. And yes, all Big Ten puns aside, Rutgers is a big-time team and should be regarded as such.

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Senior QB Gary Nova has been locked in since the loss against Penn State.

During its three biggest victories—against Washington State, Navy, and Michigan— in the first half of the season, Rutgers has squared up and outmatched three vastly different offensive styles. The Rutgers defense, the heart of this year’s team, bent but did not break against Washington State and gunslinger QB Connor Halliday. Three weeks later, on the heels of what can only be called “The Loss,” Rutgers rolled into Annapolis and stopped Navy’s vaunted triple option in its tracks, holding the Midshipmen’s FBS-leading rushing attack to only 171 yards. On Saturday, even with the turmoil plaguing college football’s most successful program, embattled dual-threat quarterback Devin Gardner showed flashes of his dynamic brilliance, but the Rutgers defense came up with key stops late in the 4th quarter to seal the deal.

Of course, on the other hand, there is the big “1” looming in the loss column. If not because of Rutgers’s first B1G win, if not because of Michigan’s prestige, last Saturday night’s field-storming at High Point Solutions Stadium was a much-needed emotional release for the thousands of Rutgers fans still heartbroken by Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s late-game march down the field in what seemed, looked, felt, and even smelt like Rutgers’s first Big Ten win. There were more than enough things that Rutgers did wrong during its 60 minutes against Penn State; many of them, such as Nova’s glaring 5 interceptions and the defense’s inability to stand on its head for one last drive, have been broken down and analyzed hundreds of times over. Nevertheless, in a game where a single play could have made the difference, Rutgers showed that it wasn’t exactly going to be the conference basement-dwellers that analysts across the country projected them to be.

But now, with its first conference victory in the books, Rutgers enjoys a much-needed bye week before it stares down the barrel of a daunting second-half schedule: 6 games (all conference matchups) in seven weeks, only two of which are home; three matchups against teams in the AP Top 25 Poll and another against a team bounced from the rankings this past weekend; and the nation’s 1st and 3rd best running backs, the 3rd best passing team, and the 4th best run-stoppers.

Despite the quality of its upcoming opponents, this Rutgers team is built to stand up to the challenges of a Big Ten schedule. For all of the criticism, untimely interceptions, and passes beyond the line of scrimmage, Gary Nova has proven that he’s mentally tough and has the skills to lead a formidable passing attack. Although Paul James is an irreplaceable offensive cog, the duo of Desmon Peoples and Justin Goodwin has shown that it can complement the passing game and, in some cases, pick up meaningful yardage. With the upcoming bye week, the receiving corps will be at full strength, and it has recently hit its stride as Janarion Grant, John Tsimis, and Andrew Turzilli have all emerged as threats alongside Leonte Carroo. And it must not go without noting that the offensive line has stood tall every game, allowing only 8 sacks and providing a needed push up front to create holes for the running game and time in the pocket for Nova.

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RU’s defense has shined all season long, but more challenges await.

On the defensive side of the ball, there is not enough praise to be spread around, as the Rutgers defense currently leads the NCAA with 5 blocked kicks and ranks 3rd in the FBS with 24 total sacks. Captains and starting defensive linemen David Milewski and Darius Hamilton have combined for six of those sacks and 12 additional tackles for loss. Redshirt freshman Kemoko Turay has been in a class of his own, racking up a Big Ten-leading six sacks and a NCAA-leading three blocked kicks. Despite all the position changes and injuries, the back seven have come up huge in key moments, like free safety Johnathan Aiken’s forced fumble against Washington State and cornerback Andre Hunt’s sack to push Navy away from the endzone during their final drive.

It’s no secret to anyone on or around this football team that the second half of the season will present the Scarlet Knights with significantly larger, taller, and faster challenges than the first half has. Its first game after the bye, an afternoon showdown against #15 Ohio State in Columbus, will be a long way away from a home matinee against Howard or Tulane. Later down the road, a matchup against #8 Michigan State in East Lansing will be an even further departure from the confines of Piscataway.

But none of that matters to Rutgers, not this football team. They’ve shown every journalist and analyst and “college football insider” that they are a lot better than 4-8. They’ve shown mental toughness and found ways to scratch out victories. And most importantly, they’ve shown that the Scarlet Knights are a big-time team— a big-time program—and they’ll rise to the occasion against some of the nation’s best.

The Block Heard ‘Round the Banks

By Gabe Sustick

Rutgers won its first Big Ten game Saturday 26-24 against Michigan, but it was much more than just a win.

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Redshirt Freshman Kemoko Turay notches his third blocked kick of the season (Photo: Saed Hindash | NJ Advance Media)

It was a cool night on the banks of the old Raritan, but you couldn’t tell from the pure excitement emitting from High Point Solutions Stadium.  With three minutes and seven seconds to go in the game, Michigan was setting up for a 56-yard field goal attempt that would give them a 27-26 lead.  Prior to the kick, it didn’t seem possible that the stadium could get any louder. However, that theory was proven wrong once Kemoko Turay’s left hand blocked away the potential go-ahead field goal attempt.

It was at that moment that tension collectively turned to joy.  Once the clock hit zero, those screams became pure jubilation, as the goal posts were brought down and the sea of black began moving towards the field.  Fans running to get as close to the players as they possibly could shaking hands and high-fiving everyone they saw.

College sports fans all have one common dream, to be able to storm the field or court and celebrate with the players.  It is a dream that many fans are never able to experience, which is why it needs to be savored.  It didn’t matter whether you were a freshman or a senior, an athlete or a fan.  At that moment, they were all connected by one single emotion, joy.  That joy can never be taken away, because they were all a part of history, they were there when Rutgers won its first Big Ten game.

This game had the feeling of Louisville back in 2006.  No it wasn’t a game against two ranked teams, or against rivals, or as big of an upset.  But it was what the Scarlet Knights gained from these two games that makes them similar.  Like the Louisville game, this was another statement for Rutgers football.  There will be critics that say it was a bad Michigan team, what does it really mean? That fans need to show that they have been there before.  It is true, Michigan is not having a good season, but that doesn’t take away from the history of that team and the fact that they are still one of the most decorated programs in college football history.  It was only the second Big Ten opponent for the Scarlet Knights, after a soul-crushing loss against Penn State.  It was their first win, and that can never be taken away.  The fans deserved to act just like it was Louisville, because it showed that they had arrived at their new home.

The blackout crowd rushes the field the celebrate RU’s victory (Photo: Saed Hindash | NJ Advance Media)

Contrary to the Louisville game, instead of a game winning field goal, the Michigan game had a blocked field goal, a potentially season-defining moment that helped Rutgers make a statement. More than anything, this was a game for the players.  Not just the players on this team, but the players to come after them as well.  The recrutis that see this game and say that they want to be a part of something like that.  The freshman on this team having confidence after seeing what Turay has done given the opportunity.  Many of the players on this team are from New Jersey, and to be able to win a game like this in their home state, with their fans is a dream come true.  This is only the first step that Rutgers had to take in its new conference.  Who knows what the next step is let alone when it will be, but that is for the new players to figure out.  For fans, it is one thing to be watching it, but for the players, seeing that excitement and joy is special to them, and one of the reasons why they play.

It was also a great moment for head coach Kyle Flood, who has been the head man Rutgers since 2012.  To be able to see their players succeed on the big stage is what every coach wants.  Even though there is more work ahead for Flood, he will always have this milestone to hold onto.

No matter what people took away from this game, whether it be good or bad, there are only two things that matter:  the future of this team, and the memory of the fans and players on the field postgame, singing the alma mater together.

Football Spring Practice is Underway

By Danny Friedman

Kyle Flood and the football program gave a few hundred fans a preview of the 2014 team Saturday as they hosted an open practice inside the practice bubble.  Saturday’s practice also marked the first time the team put the pads on.  From an intriguing quarterback battle to changes to the coaching staff and on both sides of the ball, there was plenty for the fan to see in the third practice of the spring.

kyle floodWe will start with most intriguing story of the spring: the quarterback competition.  Gary Nova, Chris Laviano, Blake Rankin, Mike Bimonte and Devin Ray all saw reps in front of the crowd.  Through the first two spring practices, each quarterback had seen equal reps.  The equal reps continued on Saturday.  Before spring practice, Kyle Flood had made it known that he wanted to give the quarterbacks equal reps for the first few practices then start to sort out the competition and the reps accordingly.  However, it did feel like walk-on redshirt freshman Devin Ray saw less snaps than the other four quarterbacks.  It also looked like Gary Nova and Chris Laviano took a few more snaps with the first team offense than the likes of Blake Rankin and Mike Bimonte.

In terms of performance, no quarterback stood out.  The five quarterbacks each made a few nice throws and missed on a few.  I would say Nova had the best performance as he made a few more downfield throws and looked more comfortable than the other quarterbacks.  From the share of snaps on Saturday and Flood’s displeasure with quarterback performance during the first practice, it looks like the quarterback competition will be narrowed down in the spring and become a smaller competition in the summer.  I think the quarterback competition will ultimately become a battle between Gary Nova and Chris Laviano.

"The Fridge" is ready to bring a new-look offense to Rutgers, but who will be running the show?

“The Fridge” is ready to bring a new-look offense to Rutgers, but who will be running the show?

For the first time, Rutgers fans saw the former University of Maryland head coach donning the block R.  Ralph Friedgen, the highest-paid and highest-profile assistant coach in Rutgers history, will have an immense say in determining the winner of the quarterback battle and the team’s success in the Big Ten.  At least two thirds of the plays called in the various stages of the practice were handoffs out of the I-formation.  While the terminology and playbook is going to be different going from Ron Prince to Friedgen, the receivers ran crisp routes.

Despite having a new leader, the offensive personnel did not change very much.  The entire offensive line returns as Kaleb Johnson, Keith Lumpkin, Betim Bujari, Chris Muller, and Taj Alexander are working with new offensive line coach Mitch Browning.  Paul James is expected to have a big 2014 season for the Scarlet Knights, but he was not practicing on Saturday.  Instead, sophomore Justin Goodwin got the bulk of the carries as well as redshirt sophomore Des Peoples.  Both players looked shifty and explosive and will be a nice compliment to Paul James.  The offense did look different in that Brandon Coleman is no longer there.  After coming off an upper body injury that forced him to sit out at the end of the year, Leonte Carroo looked healthy and ready to fill the number one receiver role.  Ruhann Peele, Andre Patton, and Carlton Agudosi also looked sharp and saw a lot of reps as they are going to need to produce in 2014.  Tyler Kroft is expected to pick up where he left off last season, but he was out with an injury on Saturday.  Many Rutgers fans were happy to see Mike Teel coaching them as he enters his first year as graduate assistant.

While the Scarlet Knights return a lot on offense and some younger guys will see increased roles, the story is much of the same for defense.  Joe Rossi now is leading the defense after receiving the coordinator position this offseason.  The most notable defensive change comes in the position swap between Kevin Snyder and Steve Longa.  Longa, the team’s leading tackler last season, is now playing weak side linebacker.  Snyder will now take Longa’s position at middle linebacker as his bigger frame is expected to be better suited for the position.  Ian Thomas was back out there for the Scarlet Knights after leaving the team in October.  Thomas and Cioffi took many of the first teams reps, but this will also be a competition as Gareef Glashen was out with a lower body injury and Nadir Barnwell is also competing for time.  Jonathan Aiken and Delon Stephenson are competing to take over the free safety position vacated by Jeremy Deering.  One up and coming player that saw a lot of time and looks ready to contribute this year is redshirt freshman linebacker Myles Nash.  After putting on weight this off-season, it looks like Rossi expects him to make plays for the defense.  Redshirt freshman Andre Hunt also had a nice practice and made a few plays at the safety position.  With the core of the defense returning, the unit looks to make huge strides in 2014.

Stay with WRSU as Rutgers gears up for its first season in the Big Ten.  WRSU will have the play-by-play action of the spring game on April 26th.

 

 

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