PISCATAWAY, N.J. — No one was unhappier about Gary Nova’s performance against Syracuse than Gary Nova.
Yes, the true freshman helped the Rutgers football team rally back from a 10-point deficit. Yes, he threw the touchdown pass to send the game in overtime. But Nova will be the first to admit he made way too many mistakes.
“I was pretty disappointed in my play, in myself,” Nova said after reviewing his performance. “There were a couple of third-down plays that I made. I was pretty happy with that, but I know I left a lot of offense on the field. But we got the win, so that’s all that matters at the end of the day.”
In the eyes of the coaching staff, most importantly coach Greg Schiano and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, Nova did enough to put his name in serious contention for the starting spot this week against Pittsburgh.
On the positive side, Nova threw for 122 yards and completed 58 percent of his passes off the bench. Nova threw his second career touchdown pass to tie the game and send things into overtime.
Most importantly, Nova kept his composure in what he called the toughest playing conditions of his life.
“The first play I got in there, the linebacker [Marquis Spruill] looked at me and said, ‘We’re going coming for the rest of the game,’ and I started laughing,” Nova said. “I knew they were going to be coming. I love that moment, the pressure. I love all that. The fans going crazy. I love that. That’s why I came to school, for games like that.
“I’ve been in situations like that before, but not at that magnitude in the Carrier Dome. I’ve been in a situation where my team is down and needs a couple of plays and fortunately I was able to make them.”
On the negative side, Nova made more freshman mistakes than most teams would let him get away with. Though not entirely his fault, Nova took four of the team’s five sacks. He wasted timeouts while struggling to get the plays in on time.
Worst of all, Nova did not do a good job of recognizing when a play was dead. Nova tried to do too much against the pressure. He lost a fumble deep in his own territory and also committed intentional grounding because of it.
“They were bringing a lot of guys and, watching film, I feel like I didn’t do a good job of keeping my poise in the pocket,” Nova said. “I can do a better job. Sometimes, I kind of flushed out when I didn’t need to … I just have to trust my protection more and trust my reads and trust my training.”
Whatever happens between Dodd and Nova the rest of the season, both are adamant in saying there are no hard feelings and they both came to Rutgers knowing they would have to compete every day.
That’s what it means to be a “Rutgers guy,” Nova said.
“I’m going to have the same mindset that I’ve always had since training camp,” Nova said. “I’m just coming in here to compete every day and whatever the decision the coaches make, I’m going to be supportive of the team. Me and Chas have been real supportive of each other since the beginning, so we have to keep that going.”
There is a classic line in the 1998 film "Armageddon" where Ben Affleck says of Bruce Willis’ character, “Harry'll do it. I know it. He doesn't know how to fail.”
The same goes for Nova.
Dodd may come from a winning program, but Nova literally does not lose. Since becoming the starting quarterback at Don Bosco Prep as a 16-year old, Nova has not lost a single organized football game in which he stepped on the field. He went 24-0 in high school, winning two state championships. Since enrolling at Rutgers, Nova stepped on the field in three of the team’s first four games. Rutgers’ only loss came in North Carolina, where Nova did not play.
|Nova at Don Bosco|
“Gary’s been in big games, so I think that helps,” said Schiano, who will ultimately make the decision between Nova and Dodd before Saturday’s kickoff. “He went into the Carrier Dome with a loud environment and wasn't very shook up. Chas and he are both cool customers, so I'm not worried about that. And I'm not worried about either one coming off the bench to play. I think they'll just come in and play, not press.”
So a 10-point deficit on the road in a conference game? That’s no big deal according to his former teammates at Don Bosco.
“It came as no surprise to me,” said five-star defensive lineman Darius Hamilton. “He never lost a game as a starter when he was in high school because of the kind of leader he was. Gary was a great leader. He was always on top of guys. He is big on accountability. I have nothing but love for him after we played together for multiple years. He’s a great person to be around. The thing about Gary is he always finds a way to win and isn’t afraid to take control. He’s just scratching the surface of how great he can be.”
Former and future teammate Leonte Carroo predicted the comeback the second Nova took over the reins against the Orange.
“There was definitely no surprise,” said the four-star wide receiver, who verbally committed to the Scarlet Knights this summer. “I called it the second he came in. He’s done it plenty of times in his career. Chas Dodd is also a great quarterback, but when Gary got in there, he just did what he did best and that’s lead.”
Nova’s physical tools alone are ahead of the curve of the average freshman quarterback. But as Schiano likes to say, “leadership leads.”
Nova is a born leader according to those that know him best.
“Gary was one of the best teammates I've had in my life both on the basketball team and the football team,” said four-star Don Bosco cornerback Yuri Wright. “He's a terrific leader and he knows what it takes to lead a team to victory. He's a very tough competitor got me a lot better. Playing against a quarterback of his caliber every day in practice definitely made me a better defender, especially with the arm he has.”
The Pittsburgh Connections
At this time last season, Nova was a firm verbal commit to Pittsburgh. After offseason regime change and Nova’s subsequent decommitment, he found a home 45 minute south in Piscataway.
When asked about playing the school where he nearly became a student, Nova brushed it off as just another game.
“I thought about it probably in the offseason when everything happened and I chose [Rutgers],” Nova said. “I thought a lot about it then, but now, I’m looking at it as another game and I have to get ready for it.”
But those close to him expect the game to have extra meaning against Pittsburgh.
|Nova behind Dodd in training camp|
“I feel that if he can beat out Dodd this week, he is definitely ready,” Carroo said. “The thing about Gary is that he just doesn’t lose. He hates losing and has never done it as a starter. It would be great if this was the first start of his career with it being against the team he first committed to. If you know Gary, you know he’s going to be amped up for this game and play with a little chip on his shoulder.”
Whether there are extra emotions about playing Pittsburgh or not, Nova is happy fate led him to Rutgers.
Between his pride for the Garden State and connections to the coaching staff, Rutgers quickly became a new home for Nova.
“As soon as Coach Cignetti got the job here, I felt like I didn't want to play for anyone else,” Nova said. “Just his passion for the game, his approach and his passion that he teaches it with. Every day he brings his energy that makes you want to practice and go out there. He expects greatness from you. He always asks, it could be in the middle of practice and he'll ask me, 'do you want to be great?’”