PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The only thing worse than Gary Nova’s performance Saturday was the way he felt in the locker room after a crushing 35-23 loss to Kent State on homecoming.
Nova tossed a stunning six interceptions in what becomes one of the worst losses since the turn of the program.
“It’s a terrible feeling,” Nova said. “You never want to feel like this, especially with all the hard work we put in. You just have to take your punches and keep going.”
Any hopes of a top-five finish or national title appearance vanished when Nova’s sixth interception sealed a memorable night for Kent State. Nova entered today’s game on fire and may very well enter the bye week with his starting job in question.
The sophomore finished with 313 yards on 25-of-46 passing, two touchdowns and six interceptions.
“I think again it's one of those learning experiences that is not enjoyable, certainly not enjoyable to watch, but it's not enjoyable for him to experience it either,” said Rutgers coach Kyle Flood. “I think it's going to be critical to his progression going forward as a quarterback here.”
Rutgers could have overcame the poor performance from Nova, but not when the defense could not make a stop. The Scarlet Knights made Kent State running back Trayion Durham look like a superstar. Durham was unstoppable for Rutgers and finished with 131 yards and six yards per carry.
Factor in 122 yards from speedster Dri Archer and Rutgers finished with its worst defensive performance of the year. The Golden Flashes scored more points than Arkansas one month ago.
“It’s always tough when you’re negative-whatever in the turnover margin and when our defense is getting rest, the next thing you’re back on your feet,” said senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone. “We’re built for that. We’re built to come back in and create our own turnovers. … The defense was put in some tough positions, but at the end of the game, we had an opportunity to get a couple of stops and we didn’t.”
Flood handled his first loss as a head coach with class, opening his press conference with a congratulations to Kent State and pushing the message that Rutgers will be back.
“You better credit the other team with executing what they do,” Flood said. “They executed better than we executed. I think we got to look at the film to really see the specifics of why because during the game, [defensive coordinator Robb Smith] is making play calls, we're making adjustments. But until we see the film it's tough to say for sure exactly what it is that was the one issue or if there was one issue.”
The lone bright spot in the brutal loss is that it is meaningless in the quest for a Big East championship. The nonconference loss is crushing to any hopes of a national title game or a top-five finish, but the Scarlet Knights still control their BCS destiny.
The Scarlet Knights (7-1, 4-0) go into the bye week leading the conference standings.
“One goal is gone,” Flood said on falling out of the national-title picture. “That’s the reality for most teams in the country. To play for a national championship, you have to be undefeated. But there is a goal in front of us that’s never been done at Rutgers, the Big East championship.”