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Flood reconfirms faith in tested Nova

<p>Sophomore running back Jawan Jamison, who announced Jan. 5 he will enter the NFL?Draft, looks for running room against Virginia Tech.</p>

Sophomore running back Jawan Jamison, who announced Jan. 5 he will enter the NFL?Draft, looks for running room against Virginia Tech.

Gary Nova said following the Dec. 28 Russell Athletic Bowl he deserved to be the Rutgers football team’s starting quarterback entering spring practice.

Head coach Kyle Flood agreed Jan. 7, reiterating his support for the sophomore in his end-of-year teleconference.

“If there’s ever a situation where there’s a player who’s clearly the best player at the position, then they’ll start,” Flood said. “There are no endowed positions at Rutgers, but I think Gary’s got a unique opportunity coming in as the starter and getting the starter’s reps this spring.”

Nova’s completion percentage dipped to nearly 56 percent in the Scarlet Knights’ last seven games, including the 13-10 overtime bowl loss to Virginia Tech in Orlando in which he completed a season-low 42.5 percent of his passes.

Nova threw 14 interceptions during that stretch after tossing only two in the Knights’ first six games.

Still, Flood said he never considered benching Nova in the season finale, when five trips inside Virginia Tech territory ended without touchdowns.

“If I felt like the quarterback wasn’t playing well and the rest of the offense was and I felt a change could have a significant impact, I think then you consider it,” Flood said. “That game on offense, there was not a lot of things going right at any position.”

Nova’s backup, junior Chas Dodd, has appeared in six meaningful games in which he did not start. He threw only one pass in his last appearance Nov. 24 at Pittsburgh before Nova, who said he got the wind knocked out of him, returned.

Dodd replaced Nova on Nov. 5, 2011, against South Florida, engineering an overtime victory on 11-for-17 passing.

Flood dismissed the possibility of Dodd transferring.

“I think players that are looking for other options … you don’t see that kind of commitment to the program,” he said. “I never once doubted Chas’ commitment to the program.”

Dodd and Nova entered last spring in competition for reps with the Knights’ first-team offense. It spilled into the summer, when Flood named Nova the team’s starter Aug. 20, days before Rutgers’ season opener at Tulane.

Flood said he expected his coaching staff to remain intact, but offensive coordinator Dave Brock agreed Jan. 18 to become the next head coach at Delaware.

Flood began his search that weekend for the team’s next play-caller, its fourth in as many seasons and Nova’s third.

“Coach Brock is a really fine football coach and has been for a long time,” Flood said Jan. 18. “[Delaware’s interest in Brock] did not surprise me, and the fact that they wanted to hire him did not surprise me.”

Nova will need a dynamic offense.

The Knights lacked it in their last three games — all losses — when Flood said a lack of running game undid their offense.

“When you don’t run the ball with consistency, you’re going to struggle on offense,” he said. “The biggest difference in the Cincinnati game [a 10-3 win, was] we were able to run the ball with tremendous consistency. That was not the case in the Virginia Tech game, and it eventually caught up with us.”

Jawan Jamison’s NFL Draft declaration does not help.

The sophomore rushed for 1,075 yards this season, the team’s first 1,000-yard season for a running back since 2007. But recurring ankle injuries diminished Jamison’s production down the stretch, and the Knights faltered without a threat on the ground.

“Certainly we’re not where we want to be offensively,” he said. “I think we’re closer than we were a year ago. The biggest issue I think we have on offense is we need to perform more consistently. There’s just not enough consistency in offensive performance. There was more than there was last year. … We want our offense to play with the same kind of consistency our defense does. We haven’t been able to get there yet.”

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

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