Time after time
Knights defense forces four turnovers against local rival UConn, wins first game as ranked team in nearly six years
Steve Beauharnais could sense the potential. The factors — more than 50,000 fans at High Point Solutions Stadium, a bye week and heaps of praise to anyone willing to listen — provided a ripe atmosphere for it.
But the No. 20 Rutgers football team avoided a letdown Saturday, intercepting four passes en route to a 19-3 victory against Big East rival Connecticut.
“The mistake of teams,” Beauharnais said, “is it’s too late when they want to turn it up.”
The Scarlet Knights (5-0, 2-0) defense seldom lacked intensity. But it finally paid off in the fourth quarter, when the Knights intercepted UConn (3-3, 0-1) quarterback Chandler Whitmer three times in the final four minutes to cap another impressive performance.
Rutgers held the Huskies to only 53 rushing yards — below their 62.5-yard-per-game average, tops in the country. UConn running back Lyle McCombs, held out of the first quarter following an arrest Friday, managed a season-low 32 yards.
Wildcat quarterback Scott McCummings was the Huskies’ only consistent run threat, but he carried the ball only four times.
It was part of a routine for a Knights defense that has yet to crack on the ground.
“We pride ourselves on stopping the run,” said Beauharnais, a senior linebacker. “We just did our job today. We didn’t really do anything special.”
Rutgers’ offense did not, either.
But pinned at its own 1-yard line at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the unit gained traction. The drive started on a 19-yard pass from sophomore Gary Nova to classmate Brandon Coleman, and it did not lose steam until only seven minutes remained.
And this time, UConn’s offense stared down its own end zone.
“That was a 13-play drive,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “I’m not sure how many of those were runs, but I know quite a few of them were. It makes a difference.”
Jawan Jamison was again the difference maker. The sophomore rushed for 110 yards, his sixth consecutive game with at least 100, and seventh in eight tries.
He danced, cut back and eluded a defense that ranks ninth nationally against the run.
“If you’re going to have a good run game, you need a back that can ultimately make something out of nothing,” Flood said. “All of the great backs do that at every level. I think Jawan has that ability.”
And while the performance never proved overwhelming, it did not need to be.
With a 13-3 lead thanks to senior Mark Harrison’s 14-yard touchdown reception, Rutgers could afford to be conservative.
“I think it affects it in the second half of the game,” Flood said. “I don’t think you think that way in the first half of a game. I do think as the clock becomes your ally, then you have to think about calling the game differently on offense.”
The Huskies did not fare much better in the first half. With McCombs — the league’s top returning rusher — out, head coach Paul Pasqualoni turned to Whitmer, making his first career appearance at quarterback in the Big East.
The Knights lacked proper etiquette.
Despite recording only one sack, Rutgers kept consistent pressure on Whitmer, who never gained footing in the pocket.
“It’s frustrating because we want to be able to celebrate at the quarterback and get sacks,” said senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone. “As long as we’re able to get to the quarterback [and] disrupt his timing, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trading it for anything, but when they come, they’re going to come.”
Vallone, with 43 career starts, knows more than anyone the spurts defenses go through. He also won only his first game when Rutgers was ranked.
“We can’t have a letdown for one second. You see it every year. Every year I’ve been here,” Vallone said, “we’ve gotten blindsided at one point.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.
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