Dominant rushing offense, defense propel Rutgers to road victory at Navy
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Initially, very little went as planned Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the Rutgers football team, which turned the ball over on the first play from scrimmage and lost its leading rusher early in the second quarter.
To make matters worse, Navy's high-powered triple-option rushing attack unexpectedly passed the ball more than the Scarlet Knights' offense in the first half, and Rutgers had to alter its defensive alignments.
The Knights ultimately found themselves in a precarious situation late in the game, much like last week against Penn State.
Only this time, Rutgers came through when all the chips were on the table. With a last-minute defensive stand at the 6-yard line, the Knights preserved their two-possession second-half lead and spoiled Navy's home opener with a 31-24 win.
"Mature players understand it takes 60 minutes to win a football game," said head coach Kyle Flood. "The game is not going to be won or lost in the first three minutes of the game, and I thought today we played like that all the way through the game, even until the last play."
Flood pointed to the critical red-zone stop as a step in the right direction for his defense, and with plenty of good reason.
After Navy (2-2) stopped Rutgers (3-1) short on 3rd-and-1, junior Tim Gleeson punted the ball 40 yards to the Midshipmen's 26-yard line, and the stage for redemption was set.
Working with 3:12 left on the clock, Navy went 68 yards in eight plays to move the ball to Rutgers' 6-yard line, but then the rally fell apart.
Senior cornerback Gareef Glashen deflected quarterback Keenan Reynolds' 1st-and-goal pass down the middle. Consecutive sacks followed as Reynolds tried to evade pressure in the pocket.
And on 4th-and-goal from the 19-yard line, receiver Jamir Tillman couldn't stay in bounds on Reynolds' heave into the corner of the end zone, leaving only 10 seconds on the clock.
Rutgers' fortitude resonated throughout the visiting team locker room afterward.
"It says a lot about us and our character," said senior strong safety Lorenzo Waters, who recorded a team-high nine tackles. "We can't get down on ourselves. We've got to finish drives and finish games like this, and the fact that we did that today is definitely going to be big for our defense."
But it was what the Knights did on the other side of the ball that firmly established the game's tone.
Despite losing junior running back Paul James to a first-half leg injury, the Knights never veered from a seamless offensive game plan.
In order to keep Navy's rushing onslaught from controlling the clock, Rutgers made a priority of pounding the holes its offensive line created. Sophomores Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples reaped the benefits, tumbling to a combined 186 yards and two touchdowns.
That allowed senior quarterback Gary Nova to play risk-free football and efficiently manage the game with 151 yards on 14 pass attempts. He also sneaked in two scores from the 1-yard line during a midgame stretch in which the Knights scored on five straight possessions.
Most important, Rutgers consistently moved the chains and sustained drives.
"We saw a lot of good looks we had to run the ball on film, so in practice we felt good about the scheme we had," Nova said. "Once we got it going, we didn't get away from it. We just threw a lot of stuff at them, and our [running] backs did a great job, offensive line played really well. It's just great to win a game like that. It was a real battle up front."
Nothing was more telling of Rutgers' success in that battle than the fact the Knights outgained the nation's leader in rushing yards, 284-171.
Navy came into the game leading the country with 403 yards per game, but even with 43 attempts, the Midshipmen couldn't produce half that total.
"In the grand scheme of things, that's a pretty good job," Waters said. "We set the bar at 100 — normally we like to limit teams to under 100 rushing yards — but with them exclusively running the football almost, you feel good about that."
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