July 17, 2018 | ° F

Flood hints at leader in QB competition

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Sophomore running back Desmon Peoples jukes out a defender. He rushed 18 times for 85 yards and two touchdowns Saturday.

All signs pointed to Gary Nova leading the Rutgers football team’s quarterback competition when the senior took the field Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium for the annual spring game’s first offensive series.

Then Kyle Flood — against his own reluctance — gave an endorsement.

“If we had to play today, Gary would be our starter,” the head coach said at halftime. “We’re not ready to name a starter just yet.”

Flood’s caution paid dividends throughout the spring, as without job security, the Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep product showed tangible signs of improvement.

Photo: Edwin Gano

Senior Gary Nova prepares to unload a pass in Saturday’s spring game at High Point Solutions Stadium. He led all quarterbacks with 78 passing yards on 13 attempts.

Nova said the team kept track of him completing about 68 percent of his throws across the 15 practices. He completed just 54.5 of his passes in 10 starts last season, including less than half in three of his last four outings before being benched.

And Flood said the senior, who has struggled sporadically with turnovers in the past, tossed just one interception all spring.

“It’s hard to do that without making good decisions,” Flood said. “He’s protecting the football, and I think his location’s been good. Do I think it could be better? I do. He still has room to improve, but I’m very pleased with the progress. He’s a better quarterback today than he was at the end of the season, and I think that’s the goal for everybody.”

Nova led the White team on a 10-play, 80-yard opening touchdown drive, with a 30-yard slant pass to sophomore slot receiver Janarion Grant — who Flood announced as the team’s Most Improved Offensive player — serving as the highlight.

Nova then sneaked in the score from the 1-yard line. He finished 6-of-13 for a game-high 78 passing yards against the second-team defense in White’s 21-0 win against Scarlet.

Sophomore running back Desmon Peoples capped off an impressive spring with 18 rushes for 85 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught two screen plays for 24 yards.

With senior Savon Huggins, junior P.J. James and sophomore Justin Goodwin nursing injuries, the shifty 5-foot-8, 175-pound back ran away with the majority of first-team reps.

“I feel like I let everybody know that I can play, and I deserve a shot to play,” Peoples said. “It was a great opportunity. I had a chance to showcase my talent — period, and I feel like I took advantage of it.”

Junior Mike Bimonte, the White team’s other quarterback, took two sacks in his first series and finished the day 5-of-11 for 55 yards.

While Bimonte’s decision-making was sound most of spring, there is a clear disparity in arm talent between the fourth-year junior and Nova.

Redshirt freshman Chris Laviano, meanwhile, mostly saw action with the second unit. He failed to complete a pass in nine attempts and threw an interception one play into the second half.

Still, Flood isn’t writing off either quarterback going into the summer.

“Mike and Chris have both made a lot of progress this spring,” Flood said. “I think when you’ve got one guy who’s got a lot of game experience and two others who don’t, you have to give them as many snaps and opportunities as you can if you think they can make your team better.”

That calculated thought should continue to benefit Nova.

The senior said Flood’s endorsement means little 124 days before Rutgers’ inaugural season in the Big Ten kicks off.

Flood said he doesn’t feel naming Nova, one of the team’s four captains last season, as the starter this early would increase his value as a leader.

Hampered by three years of inconsistencies, Nova looks to continue working tirelessly with new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen to silence critics.

“You just want to go out the right way,” Nova said, “and with a Big Ten schedule, what better way to do it?”

Knight Note: Along with Grant’s award, redshirt freshman outside linebacker T.J. Taylor garnered Most Improved Defensive Player of the spring.

Senior defensive end David Milewski earned the Frank R. Burns Award, which Flood described as Rutgers’ “toughness” award.

The 6-foot-4, 250 pounder returned to the field last August after a third knee surgery sidelined him for 21 months.

“I think anybody who’s around David for more than 30 seconds understands exactly how tough he is, what he’s had to overcome in his career to get back on the field,” Flood said, “and now healthy for a full year, somebody who’s really going to help us play defense at a high level next year.”

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GregJohnsonRU. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.

Greg Johnson

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