Knights overcome early blunders at Temple, answer with four offensive touchdowns in second half in 25-point rout
PHILADELPHIA — The mild-mannered Kyle Flood offered no words of motivation Saturday, no antidote to the Rutgers football team’s offense’s first-half woes. He deferred to the Scarlet Knights’ veterans, who sat inside the locker room at Lincoln Financial Field staring down a 10-point deficit.
They made their share of noise in those 20 minutes between halves, but left enough for a final half hour, scoring five touchdowns in the second half to beat Temple, 35-10.
“Offensively, I think it was pretty clear to the coaches in the box and us on the sideline that we weren’t that far away,” Flood said. “But in offensive football, when you’re not that far away, it seems like you’re miles away.”
Gary Nova came the farthest. The sophomore quarterback went 11-for-13 in the third quarter for 166 yards and three touchdowns, lifting the No. 18 Knights (7-0, 4-0) from their first-half grogginess. He managed only five completions in the first half.
“If we thought it was going to be a smooth ride through, we were definitely wrong,” Nova said. “We knew we were going to face adversity. We weren’t worried.”
Nova’s 32-yard scoring connection with senior wide receiver Tim Wright kick-started the team’s resurgence. And a five-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Mark Harrison with 28 seconds left in the quarter all but sealed another Rutgers win.
The performance was a far cry from the Knights’ first half, which featured three punts, two giveaways and a turnover on downs.
“I wish I could tell you that there was a magical halftime speech that you give to a team,” Flood said. “But the message was very simple and very clear from myself and every coach on the staff.”
Flood worked to rectify technical problems during the 20-minute break. It is part of a recurring theme for Rutgers in its last four games, when it scored only 24 percent of its points during the first half.
But never had the Knights entered the locker room this season without scoring.
“It came from within the heart,” said junior left guard Antwan Lowery. “Everyone in the offense had to step up and make a play for the unit.”
So they returned to the running game, which for the first time this season failed to produce a 100-yard rusher last week. Sophomore Jawan Jamison thought little about continuing the trend.
The Big East’s leading rusher topped the Knights in both rushing and receiving against the Owls (3-3, 2-1), which could not ultimately keep pace.
Jamison left the field with a season-high 195 all-purpose yards and a series of demoralizing runs, which quickly tempered ideas of a football renaissance at Temple.
He accounted for 109 yards on the Knights’ three third-quarter touchdown drives, including 32 on a screen-pass score in which he eluded Owl linebacker Sean Daniels on a vicious cutback.
“It would be hard for us to function,” Flood said, “if [Jamison] wasn’t there.”
Rutgers’ offensive line could beg to differ.
The Knights’ starting five helped the offense account for 223 third-quarter yards, more than 60 percent of its total output. It laid the groundwork for five plays of more than 15 yards following halftime, and a six-minute edge in time of possession.
“The offensive line set the tone out there and pretty much dominated their front and made it a lot easier,” Nova said.
Nova was happy to oblige.
After facing a 10-point hole for the second time this season, Nova led four scoring drives that spanned nearly a quarter, culminating in a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end D.C. Jefferson.
Discounting an interception on a last-ditch first-half effort, Nova completed more than 65 percent of his passes, upping his season total to 61.2 percent. He admits the Knights forced plays in the first half, when he accounted for only 56 pass yards and two turnovers.
But a 20-minute interlude between halves proved arguably Rutgers’ finest hour.
“I am more interested,” Flood said, “in how we finish games.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.
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