Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, December 26, 2014
Rutgers? Big Ten debut was a success by most any measure. The Scarlet Knights are in a bowl for the fourth season in a row. Not bad after many forecast a last-place finish in the loaded Big Ten East. RU can compete in the Big Ten after arriving from the American Athletic Conference.
Rutgers used a balanced offense to keep the season on track, as the defense often struggled in finishing 13th overall in the Big Ten (439.5 ypg). The Scarlet Knights really didn?t suffer a bad loss, as Kyle Flood justified a contract extension he was awarded prior to the big Sept. 13 visit from Penn State for Rutgers? first Big Ten game.
This program appears to be on good footing with a promising future.
Record: 7-5 overall; 3-5 Big Ten
Bowl: Quick Lane vs. North Carolina
High point: Rutgers saved its best for last. The Scarlet Knights trailed 35-10 late in the second quarter at Maryland in the regular-season finale. RU looked lost, things appeared bleak vs. its fellow Big Ten newcomer. Was it really gonna end this way? But Rutgers stormed back to take a 41-38 win, the largest comeback in Scarlet Knights? history. RU had lost four of five games, seeing a 5-1 start melt into a 6-5 reality. This win stemmed the losing tide and allowed for a 7-5 finish. The triumph was especially sweet for Rutgers? offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, a Maryland alum who spent 10 seasons as head coach in College Park, Md., before a tumultuous exit. QB Gary Nova had a big game, hitting 28-of-42 passes for 347 yards with four TDs in a big senior send-off season.
Low point: Rutgers invested a lot of energy and passion in its first-ever Big Ten game, falling 13-10 to Penn State in Piscataway, N.J. But a three-game slide from Oct. 18 to Nov. 1 was a bigger bummer, as the Scarlet Knights lost to Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin by a combined 135-41. The 37-0 loss to the Badgers on Nov. 1 was the low point, as the Scarlet Knights got shut out at home to fall to 5-4, making a 5-1 start seem like a distant memory. RU managed a meager 139 yards vs. Wisconsin. Was this team gonna make a bowl?
Offensive MVP: Gary Nova. The senior quarterback finished No. 3 in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, hitting 58 percent of his attempts for 2,667 yards with 20 TDs and 12 interceptions. Nova will leave campus as one of the program?s most productive passers, holding the school career record for touchdown passes with 71. Not bad for a guy who had lost his job at the end of 2013. Gotta mention Nova?s prep teammate, junior WR Leonte Carroo, a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media who was second in the Big Ten in receiving yards (1,043) and had 53 catches with 10 TDs.
Defensive MVP: T Darius Hamilton, the son of former NFL defensive tackle Keith, got after it up front for a defense that often struggled. The junior made 43 tackles and led the team with 9.5 tackles for loss to go along with five sacks. Hat?s also off to 6-6, 235-pound redshirt freshman DE Kemoko Turay, who led the squad with 7.5 sacks and blocked three kicks. Not bad for a guy who played just two years (freshman and senior seasons) of high school football. Turay is an athletic freak with a bright future.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|