Pittsburgh – Instead of a post-game Orange Bowl celebration, Rutgers channeled its inner 2011 and blew the ultimate opportunity.
Louisville did its part, losing Connecticut, but the Scarlet Knights never showed up at Heinz Field and allowed the 5-6 Pittsburgh Panthers to look like the ones competing for a conference crown in a 27-6 blowout.
Rutgers could have locked up a BCS bid with a victory, but now must regroup from the worst performance of the season in the next five days.
“We still have an opportunity,” said fifth-year senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone. “I think that’s the thing I’m going to be preaching, that coach is already preaching that we have another opportunity to go out. All of the marbles are out there. [Louisville] is for everything.”
The Louisville loss clinched at least a share of the first Big East title in Rutgers history, but it was hardly a cause for celebration and a dejected locker room at Heinz Field.
“Silver linings, to me, I’m not trying to be rude, [but] I don’t have much use for that,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “For us, we’re very disappointed at how we played. We need to play better. We need to execute better.”
The Scarlet Knights had its worst half of the season to open the action against Pitt. Recording just three first downs, Rutgers compiled 50 yards of total offense and averaged 1.85 per play. Chas Dodd sparked nothing when he came in for Nova, who missed five minute with an injury. The running game did not get the job done either, though Jawan Jamison eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with the longest play of the half – a run for 13 yards.
Rutgers had nothing to counter Sunseri in the passing game. He shredded the secondary for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
Rutgers showed slight signs of life in the second half, driving for a Nova to Brandon Coleman touchdown. But any hopes of a dramatic comeback died when Nova airmailed a pass to Pitt defensive back Lafayette Pitts with 12 minutes left.
“From our perspective, we just backed up,” said fifth-year senior receiver Tim Wright. “A couple of drops, a couple of penalties hurt us. Those are the types of things you have to overcome. The point difference was not in our favor at the beginning, so we were just trying to fight back the whole time.”
The loss does not prevent Rutgers from controlling its own destiny to the Orange Bowl. Both coming off of losses, Rutgers and Louisville face of Thursday with the bid on the line.
If the Scarlet Knights win, they are in. If the Cardinals win, it goes to a three- or four-way tie-breaker, which likely sends them to Miami, Fla.