The Rutgers Scarlet Knights find themselves in the middle of a championship opportunity. Head coach Kyle Flood and the rest of the football staff and players will continue to say all the right things; it’s one game at a time, we are not looking at the long term picture etc. However, the reality is staring Rutgers right in the face. The Big East title is theirs for the taking.
Rutgers stands alone atop the standings with three games remaining. The three game stretch begins this Saturday with a road game at Cincinnati, who is 4-1 in conference play. After battling the Bearcats, Rutgers has another road game at Pittsburgh before hosting Louisville in the final regular season game. It’s simple, win all three and the Big East title belongs to Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights have had the ability to win games with a conservative offense this season. This is mostly due to the dominance shown week in and week out by the defense. Even when the defense springs a leak, they seem to have the ability to clog the hole just enough to hold on for a win. Generally, the formula for Rutgers this season has been dominant defense for four quarters, special teams difference making plays, and the offense doing just enough late in games.
For Rutgers to sweep the next three games, against quality conference opponents, the Scarlet Knights will most likely need to get their offense moving earlier than what has become typical this season. Rutgers has trailed in seven straight games this season.
The offense has scored just 8.4 points per game in the first half as opposed to 17.8 per game in the second half this season. Luckily the defense has kept the team in games until the offense caught up or special teams made a big play.
Cincinnati and Louisville are right in the thick of the Big East race along with Rutgers. Pittsburgh, despite it’s poor play at times this season, has one of the more talented teams at the skill positions. All three of these teams can score points. Rutgers will need to do the same, and quickly.
Getting the offense rolling may be more challenging than normal as the status of starting running back Jawan Jamison is uncertain. Jamison spraining his right ankle in the game against Army on Saturday. He tested the ankle at practice yesterday (Wednesday) but had to return to the trainers office shortly after. Flood said if it was game day, Jamison would not have been able to play. The sophomore has been the pulse of the Rutgers offense, both rushing and receiving out of the backfield.
The coaching staff may need to open the playbook and give more responsibility to sophomore quarterback Gary Nova. the signal caller has done a fine job this season, outside of a terrible game against Kent State, with managing the game and avoiding mistakes. The offense will need to find a rhythm early these final three games, especially on the road.
It Rutgers finds itself facing a deficit on the road against a Big East rival, it may be difficult to come back. If Jamison can’t go, Savon Huggins will get the start. Huggins ran the ball well last weekend against Army and Rutgers would need him to repeat that this week to keep the Bearcats off balance. Nova will need to be sharp and make the right decisions when the coaches call on the pass.
It will need to be a complete team effort from the opening kick to the final whistle. This years Rutgers team is too talented to let this opportunity slip by. It can be a slippery slope. You don’t want to change what has worked and been able to get the team to this point, but you have to be very careful to not be overly conservative and need to climb back from a deep deficit.
Gary Nova is the teams quarterback. Kyle Flood picked him to lead the team at the beginning of the season. It’s now time to let Nova truly lead this team where everyone thought possible when the season began. A quick start in these very important games will bring more confidence to both the players and the coaching staff. Make someone else play from behind and try to break the Scarlet Knights defense.