Uncertainty clouds RU?finale
As the Rutgers football team began preparation for tonight’s nationally televised season finale against Louisville, Steve Beauharnais found inspiration from an unlikely source: the Scarlet Knights scout team.
“I tell them, ‘If we win, we’re not going to Florida without you. We need your help.’ We need 100 percent effort [from] the whole program, from the cleaning lady up until the head coach,” said Beauharnais, a senior linebacker. “We need everybody in this one.”
By now, the scenarios have played themselves out repeatedly. A win cements the Knights in a BCS bowl game for the first time in program history. A loss could set into motion a four-way tie for first place in the Big East, leaving Rutgers’ bowl destination in question.
The Knights (9-2, 5-1) want to leave little to chance.
“We feel like this is our year, our conference championship to take,” said senior linebacker Khaseem Greene. “We’re going to go out, and we’re going to do everything possible to win it.”
The biggest question swirls around Louisville (9-2, 4-2) quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who suffered a sprained ankle and fractured left — non-throwing — wrist Saturday against Connecticut.
Cardinals head coach Charlie Strong said Monday that Bridgewater, arguably the frontrunner for Big East Player of the Year, will play. But Bridgewater’s effectiveness remains to be seen.
Similar doubt follows the Knights offense, but for different reasons.
It scored only six points Saturday in a loss at Pittsburgh and recorded only 207 yards of total offense. It did not look better the previous week against Cincinnati, and an early deficit Oct. 27 against Kent State proved insurmountable.
Sophomore quarterback Gary Nova threw six interceptions that day, which head coach Kyle Flood said skewed Nova’s numbers.
“I think his learning curve is moving in the right directions,” Flood said. “He doesn’t have any confidence problems — that’s just not Gary. You spend five minutes with him, [and] you know he’ll be confident when he comes out on the field [tonight].”
Flood has become defined by his commitment to his players.
He named Nova the team’s permanent starter Aug. 20 after a culture of indecision at quarterback troubled the program for two seasons.
He has barely altered the Knights’ starting lineup through 11 games, with the exception of injury.
And he has become every bit the relationship builder he promised when Athletic Director Tim Pernetti announced Flood’s hiring Jan. 30.
“He just told us we deserve it,” Greene said of Flood’s message to the team. “We work so hard for it. We put ourselves in this position for this to be a conference championship game, and now it’s time for us to go take it.”
Flood spoke Monday of his experience in big games, winning a national championship in 2004 as an assistant at Delaware. He referenced his time at Division-II C.W. Post in 1996, when as offensive line coach he faced Bentley in an ECAC bowl game.
But tonight proves the biggest test of Flood’s mettle. The Knights have waited for it.
“Now it’s time to take that next step,” Greene said, “and win it.”
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