PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The Rutgers defense set up for a decisive, albeit slow starting, 28-7 victory over Army but the best news for the program came four hours north of campus.
With the Syracuse upset victory over No. 9 Louisville, the Scarlet Knights now hold sole possession of first place in the Big East. Though the leg work comes in the final three games, the Scarlet Knights are in favorable position with the Orange Bowl as the goal.
“That’s great but we still have to win our games,” said quarterback Gary Nova. “We’re not really worried about that stuff. We just have to go out here. We have a great team in Cincinnati next. We just have to execute this week in practice and try to get another win.”
At Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh and hosting Louisville mark the final three games of the year. Win out and Rutgers wins the conference. After the Cardinals’ loss to the Orange, winning two could be enough.
Just like 2006, Rutgers (8-1, 4-0) heads to Cincinnati without a loss in the conference and everything on the line.
“We’re done with this game and we have to turn our attention toward Cincinnati,” said running back Jawan Jamison. “We’re ready. When it comes to conference games, Big East games, it’s a rivalry game. We know we have to step it up.”
Unimportant in terms of the Orange Bowl, the Saturday victory over Army showed a bounce back from an ugly loss and, yet again, a slow start.
Nova found success. He completed 14-of-17 passes for a touchdown and an interception off a tipped ball. The same defense that got shredded by Kent State stepped up to stop the best rushing team in the nation.
“I’m very pleased with how he played the game today,” Flood said. “The one interception is on the receiver (Miles Shuler), not on Gary . … We’re pleased with what he did. I think t’s easy for a play-caller to be aggressive when you’re on schedule.”
Rutgers surrendered 337 rushing yards, but locked down in the red zone led by a 22-tackle performance from Khaseem Greene.
The Black Knights threatened and kept the game tied for the first three quarters, but there were enough big plays on defense and special teams to keep them from reliving homecoming.
Jamil Merrell and Marcus Cooper each blocked a field goal, but senior safety Duron Harmon stole the show when he pickpocketed an option pitch that became a 73-yard touchdown at the end of the game.
“They’re momentum swings in the game,” Flood said. “I think those are things that get you excited and really keep the defense going at times. … Blocking kicks is part of our culture. It’s something we want to do every week.”
Jamison ran for 90 yards, but missed a quarter because of an ankle injury. Jamison returned to the game and said afterwards that he feels fine. Now 47 yards from 1,000, the sophomore threw his first career touchdown pass to tie the game in the first quarter.