Freshman impresses in first-career start at corner
True freshman cornerback Delon Stephenson stood out on the Rutgers football team’s first defensive series Saturday against Temple.
But unlike most instances for the Scarlet Knights secondary, this was for a good reason.
On quarterback P.J. Walker’s first pass attempt, Stephenson dove toward the opposing sideline for an interception. It was his first-career pick and the first interception by a Rutgers cornerback since former player Ian Thomas grabbed one in the opener against Fresno State.
“We pretty much knew they were going to run that play,” Stephenson said. “The coaches put me in a great spot to do what I had to do.”
While there were mistakes — Stephenson failed to turn his head to locate a touchdown pass in the end zone — his steady play exemplified the secondary’s performance.
Rutgers allowed 203 passing yards, nearly 100 yards less than its 118th-ranking average of 305 per contest.
Head coach Kyle Flood said it was just one of many reasons the Knights defense was effective in holding Temple to 20 points. The Owls scored 72 in their previous two games.
“They scored a lot of points the last couple of weeks,” Flood said, “and to hold them to 20 — and seven of them were on a short field that our guys had to defend — I thought it was a good effort on our defense as a whole.”
Stephenson’s play — three tackles and two quarterback hurries against Temple — was not the only positive for Rutgers in the secondary.
Redshirt freshman Ruhann Peele, who switched to cornerback last week because of the lack of positional, collected his first career sack in the first quarter.
He also forced the game-clinching fumble in the closing seconds of the game to prevent Rutgers from suffering its third straight loss. Whether Peele will remain at corner will be evaluated today.
Freshman Nadir Barnwell, who was suspended for the game after a DWI arrest will be fully reinstated this week, Flood said.
But Stephenson’s play could bode well for another start Nov. 16 against Cincinnati.
“He stepped up [Saturday],” said junior cornerback Gareef Glashen. “He came out and played ball. He wanted to step up.”
When sophomore wide receiver Leonte Carroo hauled in his 25-yard game winning touchdown catch, it marked the eighth time the Edison, N.J. native caught a touchdown in the fourth quarter or later this season.
“If it’s a close game, I want the ball in the fourth quarter because I know I can be a difference maker and change the game,” Carroo said.
Carroo recorded two fourth-quarter touchdowns against both Fresno State and Arkansas. On Oct. 5 against Southern Methodist, he caught two touchdowns in overtime to seal a 55-52 victory.
Senior center Dallas Hendrickson entered the game in the third quarter after junior Betim Bujari went down with a lower leg injury. He did not return.
After Hendrickson’s insertion, Temple sacked Nova twice. The offensive line allowed none before Bujari sprained his ankle.
Bujari will be limited in the bye week, Flood said.
Hendrickson, who started one game this season Sept. 14 against Eastern Michigan, said the rhythm between him and Nova was in sync, though he did not take many reps with Nova during the week.
“Our rhythm’s always fine. It’s just a matter of communication at the line,” Hendrickson said. “[Communication] between him and me was good, but between the offensive line we did some different things, so we just have to clean that up.”
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