Rutgers moves on from end-of-season troubles
The Rutgers football team’s return to practice Saturday marked the beginning of what head coach Kyle Flood calls a new season. But Flood’s biggest task before preparing for the Dec. 28 Russell Athletic Bowl involves distancing the Scarlet Knights from a season-ending loss to Louisville, voiding their chance at a BCS berth.
“The memory will never go away,” Flood said. “There’s nothing else we can do to affect that game. That game is a part of history, and that’s what it is. Now we move forward, and we try to make more history.”
Flood said the team came to grips with its season Dec. 2, when it reconvened for its bowl announcement. The Knights talked about their matchup with Virginia Tech, discussed the season as a whole and — more importantly for Flood — turned their attention to the future.
“I think we all understand it,” said senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone. “Once we get into [game preparation], then guys will really focus down, and we’ll be able to really attack what we’re trying to get.”
For now, Flood treats the Knights’ team activities like an extended spring practice period. Players outside of the depth chart earned 12 team reps Saturday, he said, which Flood could not replicate during the regular season.
But following a pair of chances at sealing a BCS bid, the Knights’ most difficult test remains playing the waiting game.
Thirteen practices separate the team from its meeting in Orlando with the Hokies, the Knights’ premier bowl opponent from a branding perspective.
“Obviously they have great history, but they also have great players,” Vallone said. “I don’t think their record reflects how good they really are.”
But a 6-6 team from the ACC’s Coastal Division is hardly the one Rutgers expected following its best season since 2006. Flood praised Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, whom he met for the first time Wednesday during the Russell Athletic Bowl coaches’ press conference.
Beamer has won at least 10 games in a season 13 times in Blacksburg, Va., including a streak of eight years in a row before this year’s .500 record.
Flood, whose selling point Dec. 2 was a 10-win season, is pursuing his first as a head coach.
“It’d be a great accomplishment for us to be able to do that,” Vallone said. “I think we’re a more than capable team of achieving that. With everything we’ve gone through this year, I think that’d be something great to end the season with.”
Antwan Lowery does not know where his older brother Antonio, a former Rutgers linebacker was, but he could picture his reaction following the junior left guard’s Big East First Team selection.
“He was probably doing cartwheels,” Antwan Lowery said.
And for good reason. Antonio Lowery remained Antwan Lowery’s fiercest supporter during the last two seasons, when problems stemming from Antwan Lowery’s personal life and weight plagued him.
Antwan Lowery played only four games last season despite 10 appearances and four starts two years ago. His underwhelming performance had overshadowed the promise he showed as a redshirt freshman.
“I just see it as being a true blessing coming from where I came from a season ago,” Antwan Lowery said. “[The coaching staff] put their trust in me, and I just had to go out and play football.”
Antwan Lowery became the third Rutgers offensive lineman in four seasons to earn first-team recognition.
The Knights are fourth nationally in sacks allowed with eight. They surrendered 30 last season and 101 in 2010 and 2009 combined.
“The difference was everywhere, from the head coach to the offensive line coach to the unit putting in the work, guys truly caring about the position,” Antwan Lowery said. “It showed throughout the season. ... It’s just been a tremendous blessing to see that guys truly care.”
Flood said he will meet with the team’s NFL draft-eligible juniors following Rutgers’ bowl game. Only two juniors — wide receiver Mohamed Sanu last year and left tackle Anthony Davis in 2010 — have left early in the past three seasons.
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.
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