Sinking feeling

Knights win first-ever share of Big East Championship despite three-score rout, host Louisville this week for crown

<p>Head coach Kyle Flood’s team could still earn a BCS?bid should it beat Louisville on Thursday at High Point Solutions Stadium.</p>

Head coach Kyle Flood’s team could still earn a BCS?bid should it beat Louisville on Thursday at High Point Solutions Stadium.

PITTSBURGH — Steve Beauharnais sat alone at his locker Saturday, his head buried in his hands and his pads still on. The world around the Rutgers football team’s senior linebacker flickered by — managers filing away equipment, hushed teammates changing clothes and a scramble to the team’s return flight ensuing.

Beauharnais did not notice. His Scarlet Knights had lost, 27-6, at Pittsburgh, wasting an opportunity to win the Big East title outright for the first time in school history.

“It hurts because we feel like we had it in our hands,” said senior safety Duron Harmon, “and we let somebody take it away.”

The Knights (9-2, 5-1) left Pittsburgh with at least a share of the Big East Championship — another first for the program — following news of Louisville’s loss Saturday to Connecticut.

But after a thorough dismantling from the Panthers (5-6, 2-4), Rutgers could only come to terms with the opportunity it left on the Heinz Field turf.

“I regret the whole game,” said sophomore quarterback Gary Nova. “They played way better than us. They deserved to win the game. We didn’t execute, and when you do that you’re going to lose.”

The Knights offense treaded water through nearly three quarters before scoring a consolation touchdown when the game was well out of reach. Sophomore running backs Savon Huggins and Jawan Jamison, whose 14 yards put him past 1,000 for the season, were non-factors.

So was Rutgers’ pass game, which never gained its footing.

“We have a very thin line,” Harmon said. “It’s either we’re going to do what we’re supposed to do, or we’re going to get beat.”

The Knights also got beat around.

Nova left the game briefly after a Pittsburgh defensive lineman knocked the wind out of him. Senior linebacker Khaseem Greene felt dizzy following a special teams collision and did not return until later in the game.

And junior right guard Andre Civil suffered an injury for the second time in three games.

Snowy conditions and grass worn by weeks of use could have been to blame. So, too, could have been a week filled with Big Ten talk, along with the hand-shaking and well wishes it brought with it.

Head coach Kyle Flood insisted it had nothing to do with the offense’s struggles. Execution, Flood said, would have to be better.

“I don’t think it was tight. I don’t think it’s the weather,” Flood said. “I don’t know why those balls were dropped. I wish I did. Every receiver who plays a lot of football is going to drop a ball here and there. To have three different guys do it in one game is almost like an unfortunate coincidence.”

Rutgers knows the feeling all too well.

It failed in a 2011 season finale at UConn to secure its first share of a Big East crown, falling to the Huskies by 18 points. Its previous shortcomings — namely during a banner 2006 season — are well documented.

But the Knights insist this season is different.

They still welcome second-place Louisville to High Point Solutions Stadium on Thursday in without question the most meaningful game in program history. A win still pegs them squarely in the BCS picture.

And a favorable outcome still allows them to shake a half-decade of hypotheticals.

“We had a great opportunity,” Nova said. “We still have an opportunity on Thursday.”

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.

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