Regular season ends with middling results
Before sophomore running back P.J. James rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns Saturday against South Florida, his positive day began when he awoke.
“For some reason I felt like this was this was going to be a great day,” James said.
Saturday was great for more than James, as the New York Yankees invited the Rutgers football team to Dec. 28’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl against Notre Dame.
As Rutgers’ (6-6, 3-5) regular season ends with a .500 record, the Knights enter bowl season on a positive note. Athletic Director Julie Hermann even gave head coach Kyle Flood a vote of confidence Sunday.
But the regular season was difficult for Rutgers, which lost five of six before beating USF. The losing stretch caused widespread fan unrest, some even calling for Flood to be fired.
“It’s really not something that I can think about,” Flood said postgame. “For me right now, we concluded our second season. We’re going to our second straight bowl. We’ve got a very young football team. It’s a very exciting team to watch even though the results aren’t something to always be excited about.”
Rutgers’ defense, which allowed 29.8 points and 406 yards per game this season, was one of the worst defenses yardage-wise in program history.
It prompted Flood on Sunday to fire defensive coordinator Dave Cohen. He also released quarterback coach Rob Spence and offensive line coach Damian Wroblewski. Hermann supported Flood’s moves.
The defense was out of sync before Saturday’s 31-6 victory against South Florida, allowing more than 40 points in five games this year.
“We have talent. We just had to play as a whole. We all were on the same page, and that’s where our success came from,” said redshirt freshman linebacker Steve Longa of the victory against USF.
The defense struggled against spread offenses that exposed the tackling inabilities of Rutgers’ inexperienced secondary.
It often forced the safeties to play far back, leaving the middle open. Linebackers were pressed into pass coverage without help, where receivers could outrun them. In turn it hurt the pass pressure.
Rutgers had offensive issues, too. Flood benched junior quarterback Gary Nova after Nov. 21’s 41-17 loss at Central Florida.
Nova ended the regular season with 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 10 games.
Like last season, Nova’s numbers began to drop off toward the middle of the year. The Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep product threw four touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his last five games.
But the offense and Nova had their high points.
Nova threw 14 touchdowns and four interceptions in the first five games, as Rutgers’ offense averaged 40.2 points per game in the team’s 4-1 span.
He also completed two game-winning drives, each ending with a touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Leonte Carroo, his high school teammate.
Carroo broke out in his first collegiate season as a wideout with 478 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, despite missing the last two games. Sophomore tight end Tyler Kroft also significantly improved with 40 receptions for 530 yards — both team highs.
Flood called Rutgers’ victory against USF its most complete game all season, as all sides of the ball played to their potential.
Now it is a matter of Rutgers producing the same results on a bigger stage against Notre Dame.
Flood does not believe in game-to-game momentum, but James thinks it might exist.
“I feel like your last game gives you a little boost on what you’re going to do next game,” James said. “You kind of see what you already did, and you want to do better.”
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