Just when Rutgers University football fans thought that its quarterback situation was settled, freshman Gary Nova struggled in a 21-20 victory over Navy Saturday in a non-conference contest at High Points Stadium in Piscataway, NJ. Nova’s Week 7 play has put some doubt in the mind of head coach Greg Schiano, who needs to decided if Nova should earn his third start of the season Friday at the University of Louisville in a primetime (8 p.m. on ESPN2), Big East Conference match up.
“We are just going to evaluate who gives us the best chance to win,” coach Greg Schiano said of his QB situation. "It is the same guy who rolled that dig into Tim Wright in the back of the end zone — that is an NFL throw. That is a third guy down and he just nails that thing.
“You are going to live with some growing pains, but not at all costs. We have another good quarterback on the roster and (offensive coordinator) Frank (Cignetti) and I talk all the time about it. Sometimes you make some decisions on your gut and you go with it.”
Nova did post a collegiate-best 271-passing yards against the Midshipmen, but his second-quarter interception — which was a pass tipped by Navy linebacker Matt Warrick and landed in the arms of safety Chris Ferguson, who ran the ball 16 yards into the end zone — made a lot of Rutgers fans cringe.
Nova, who finished the game with two INTs, did rebound with two second-half passing TDs, the last was a 20-yarder to wide receiver Tim Wright and it gave Rutgers a 21-17 lead with 12:57 remaining in the fourth.
However, Nova’s heroics didn’t last long. On the Scarlet Knights’ second to last possession, and the score 21-20 after a 41-yard field goal by Navy kicker Jon Teague with 7:52 remaining, the true freshman threw an interception deep inside Rutgers territory.
Luckily, the Scarlet Knight defense and special teams showed up — Navy took over at the Rutgers’ 23-yard line and had a go-ahead field goal blocked — and helped Rutgers escape with the win and improve to 5-1 overall, just one more win away from becoming bowl eligible.
“I really don’t care,” Nova said after the win. “The win is all that matters in the end. We did it for each other. We played hard and we got the win.”
Nova is correct. A victory is all the matters and Schiano needs to stick with his freshman through his on-and-off play. It’s obvious that Nova is the best quarterback on the roster and the only way that he’s going to learn is to play and make mistakes.
“Nova needs to relax and let the game slow down – those are qualities that come with time,” wrote SB Nation’s blog On The Banks Sunday morning in its post-game recap, “and he is already far ahead of the curve in those respects. It’s that Nova is so ordinarily polished that his gaffes seem that more inexplicable. He looks like an upperclassman most of the time, but every so often, his inner freshman comes to the surface in forcing passes instead of being content to dissect the opposing defense by finding an open receiver.”
If next week, sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd, who started Rutgers’ first four games before being pulled midway through the third quarter against Syracuse University, is starting then Rutgers will not be taking a step forward, but a step back.
Schiano needs to stop with the game-by-game analysis and work with Nova to get better. This quarterback “controversy” doesn’t help build chemistry, it ruins it. It forces players not named Chas or Gary to pick sides and that’s never good to have in a locker room — especially, in a locker room with grown talent that needs to find consistency.
In a way, Schiano can be played for his team’s inconsistency because of his stance on his quarterback situation — and his offensive line situation, and the running back situation. The Scarlet Knights are six games into the season, they should know, at least a little bit, of what they have and what they don’t have. Right now, Schiano is coaching Rutgers like he’s an NFL coach on the hot seat and needs to win to keep his job.
No worries coach. This isn’t the NFL and your team has a bright future. Now, commit to it.