When Gary Nova walked off Heinz Field on Nov. 24, 2012 after a 27-6 loss to Pittsburgh, he never envisioned he would still be waiting for his next win more than nine months later.
He admitted it has been tough on him.
“Yeah,” said the junior quarterback on the four-game losing streak that dates back to last season. “But I’m looking forward to winning our first game at home and starting next week’s game week with a victory.”
A win tomorrow against Norfolk State will do little to foretell what kind of season is in store for the team or what kind of quarterback Nova will be, as the FCS program is the weakest opponent on paper.
Nova showed glimpses of eliteness last season, when he threw 123-for-201 for 1,503 yards with 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions during the Scarlet Knights’ seven-game win streak.
He also showed inconsistency, completing just 52 percent of his passes in the Knights’ last six contests of last year with seven touchdowns to 13 interceptions.
But after Nova failed to connect with junior wide receiver Brandon Coleman on a roll out for a two-point conversion to win Thursday against Fresno State in the season opener, Quron Pratt noticed something he had seen from Nova during training camp.
“We were all down,” said the senior wideout. “The locker room just felt a little more of silence here and there, but soon as we got on the bus to go home, [Nova] just talked to everyone and told us we got them next time and to pick it up for next game.”
It is all part of the changes to Nova’s approach players and coaches have raved about since the Knights opened summer drills.
Nova has displayed leadership, maturity and 15 fewer pounds since last season. He will walk to the center of High Point Solutions Stadium before facing Norfolk Statet tomorrow as one of four captains.
Pratt believes that type of role is important from the player who leads the offense.
“Especially at the quarterback position, he sees the whole field,” Pratt said. “He knows everyone’s responsibilities, and he knows how to read defenses and everything, so there’s a lot on him. It’s tough on him, but he gets it done.”
Despite the overtime loss, Nova showed poise against the Bulldogs, going drive-for-drive against Derek Carr, who passed for more than 4,100 yards last season.
Nova finished the game with 348 passing yards, five touchdowns and just one interception — numbers indicating all of the work he put in over the offseason is set to pay off.
“It’s just competitors going at it,” Pratt said. “It’s a great thing to see the offense come out in the first game and just doing a better job than how we started off last year. Just seeing Gary just going out there and being a leader, throwing the ball everywhere and making completions. It’s a great feeling being able to watch him perform so well. It was a great thing to see.”
If Nova can replicate his success against the Bulldogs throughout the season, it would complete the turnaround.
Head Coach Kyle Flood is not surprised.
“Gary’s a competitor. He’s a competitor first, and an excellent leader as he’s matured,” Flood said. “Gary will go out and compete. He’s always been like that. The difference now is not only has he been like that, but he’s been in the best shape of his life and he’s a better leader.”
The expectations are high and Nova knows all of the mistakes he has made, but his most important goal is to give the Knights their first win in what seems like ages.
“You can’t really focus on the bad,” Nova said. “As well as we played on offense, we still have some things to fix up. And obviously we have a loss, so that still hurts. But we still have to move on.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Bradly Derechailo on Twitter @Bradly_D. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.