Mixed experiences prepare QB?Nova
Gary Nova has appeared in 19 games, started 14 of them and faced eight different Big East teams in two years.
But the Rutgers football team’s sophomore quarterback cautions against calling himself a veteran.
“I’m still only 19 years old,” he said yesterday.
Nova will have to play like one Saturday, when Cincinnati marks the beginning of a critical three-game stretch to end the Scarlet Knights’ season. He has turned the ball over nine times in the Knights’ last three games, including six interceptions in a 35-23 loss Oct. 27 to Kent State.
One, a first-half-ending interception Oct. 20 at Temple, was inconsequential.
But Nova had nine giveaways in a three-game stretch in 2011, and then-sophomore backup Chas Dodd took over.
“I feel like I’ve been through pretty much every situation,” Nova said. “I’ve gotten through it in some way, and I feel pretty good out here.”
The confidence stems from the Knights’ coaching staff, which still places a lot of offensive responsibility on Nova. He makes check-downs, aligns teammates and trusts offensive coordinator Dave Brock.
“He won’t put us in bad situations on Saturdays,” Nova said.
Nova threw only 17 passes last week against Army, his lowest total of the season. A season-opening 20-pass performance at Tulane came closest to that output.
The figure could change Saturday.
Cincinnati, which leads the Big East with 34.2 points per game, is the fourth top-45 offense nationally Rutgers faces this season. The other three — Arkansas, Army and Syracuse — provided mixed results in terms of indirect effect on Nova’s production.
For example, Nova threw a combined 40 times against Army and Syracuse. He nearly topped that with 35 attempts against Arkansas alone.
“If it turns into a shootout, that’s a quarterback’s dream — I always say that — going back and forth,” Nova said. “We’re more than capable of doing it.”
Rutgers has twice surpassed Cincinnati’s per-game scoring average.
But it has only been necessary twice, when the team allowed a combined 61 points to Arkansas and Kent State. Excluding the two results, the Knights have surrendered an average of nearly 8.5 points per game, decreasing the likelihood of high outputs from Nova.
But head coach Kyle Flood said other intangibles matter as much as production.
“When you go on the road late in the year against a good football team like Cincinnati,” Flood said, “you need a quarterback in the huddle who has tremendous composure, tremendous confidence in himself and the people around him.”
Senior Marcus Cooper credits his relationship with defensive coordinator Robb Smith — along with a host of factors — in his development as an every-down cornerback.
Smith served as special teams coordinator last year and worked with the Knights’ cornerbacks in 2010.
“It definitely played a significant part in my improvement,” Cooper said. “I’ve already had a connection with him established as a special teams player. We have an understanding already.”
Cooper, a former wide receiver, became a de-facto starter this season, playing interchangeably with classmate Brandon Jones. He is second among Knights corners with 29 tackles, moves outside in three-receiver packages and blocked a field goal against Army.
“I want to be the best at everything I do,” Cooper said, “so that’s a pretty easy thing to carry over.”
Flood said the impact of future games will not enter his decision making with sophomore running back Jawan Jamison, who is questionable for Saturday’s game.
Jamison left practice early yesterday for the training room and did not practice earlier in the week. He is second in the Big East this season with 953 rushing yards.
“We are not thinking about anything other than the Cincinnati game,” Flood said. “It won’t be a situation where we keep a guy out because the next game is coming.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.