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December 28, 2012

A win that could have been

ORLANDO, Fla. - For almost three quarters tonight, it looked as though Rutgers was on its way to victory even though it only had posted a mere 10 points up to that point in time. But shades of Louisville set in and Rutgers lost in a similar fashion to the way it did in its regular season finale.

The bottom dropped out, but the play of sophomore quarterback Gary Nova had been weighing the team down all night. Finally, it was too much for the Rutgers defense to overcome as Virginia Tech scored 13 unanswered points to win the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl in overtime by a score of 13-10.

"Would I have predicted we wouldn't have scored a touchdown? No I wouldn't have," head coach Kyle Flood said after the game. "I'm disappointed, no consistency of drives."

Rutgers received a big break early on a wild fumble that turned into a touchdown just seventeen seconds into the game. On the second play from scrimmage, there was a bad snap that was picked up, bobbled and fumbled by Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas.

Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene was right there to scoop up the ball in the endzone for a score and give Rutgers a 7-0 advantage.

"It was a bad snap or a low snap and the ball squirmed out," Greene said. "I saw it so I just ran to the ball and tried to pick it up. I think I tackled him but I missed him and then Ka'Lial [Glaud] tackled him and the ball came out. I saw it and I just picked it up."

The Rutgers defense continued to stifle the Hokie offense as their average starting field position through the first half was at their own 23-yard line.

But it was a battle of futility among the quarterbacks through the first fifteen minutes. RU quarterback Gary Nova was 2-for-10 for 14 yards in the first period. He and Logan Thomas combined to go 5-for-20 for 42 yards through quarter No.1.

All the while, RU backup junior quarterback Chas Dodd watched from the sidelines.

"There was really no thought process different than any other game," Flood said. "Gary is our starting quarterback. He's the guy that has earned that job and earned the right to be in the game. And certainly nothing I saw from him made me feel like I should make any change."

Rutgers was able to utilize a 25-yard double reverse to Miles Shuler to set up a 36-yard Nick Borgese field goal to make the game 10-0 late in the first quarter.

The second quarter was not much better for Nova, who went 5-of-17 for 64 yards in the first half. Most of those yards came on a 43-yard completion to Brandon Coleman who picked up over 30 yards after the catch.

In the second half, Nova continued his futility as his number of poor passes were just too many to list.

Yet, Flood stuck with Nova.

"I don't believe in just throwing things against the wall to see if they work," Flood said. "Gary's our starting quarterback. Gary's the one who takes the starting reps during the week in preparation and as we get in the game we have to trust that his experiences and our coaching are going to get a little bit better throughout the game. That didn't happen today."

The big blow did not come until 11:11 mark of the fourth quarter when Nova was intercepted by Antone Exum, who then returned the football 32 yards to the RU 21-yard line. Three plays later, Virginia Tech was in the endzone and had tied the game at 10-10 with a touchdown.

When asked about the interception after the game, Nova responded in a tone that was both defiant and dismissive.

"It was a bad pass. That's it," was the extent of Nova's response.

On a pair 3rd and longs late in the fourth quarter, Flood did not show much confidence in Nova when he opted to hand the ball off to Savon Huggins, who gained one and three yards on those respective carries.

That led to a couple more of the game's record-setting 21 punts, which led to overtime.

All the while, Nova maintained he did not lose confidence.

"I don't lose confidence. I never lose confidence," said Nova, who finished the night 17-of-40 for 129 yards to go along with an interception and a fumble. "Obviously, it was a frustrating night but you just try to keep fighting through it and we didn't get the outcome we wanted. "

In the extra period, a Rutgers loss almost felt like an inevitability. And the same scenario wound up replaying itself.

Flood refused to make a change and Nova failed to move the offense. The end result was a 13-10 Rutgers loss.

Looking ahead to next year, Flood was just as unyielding when asked about whether or not there would be an open quarterback competition in the spring.

"I'm confident in Gary as our starting quarterback," was all Flood would say.

After Nova's performance tonight against Virginia Tech, enough said.

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