PISCATAWAY, N.J. - It wasn't a very memorable Saturday in Piscataway as Rutgers dropped its first game of the season to Kent State by a score of 35-23. The Scarlet Knights (7-1) turned the ball over seven times and lost for the first time since November of last year.
Things started off on a bad note when Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova was intercepted on the third play of the game. But his troubles would only get worse from there.
Nova went on to throw six interceptions, three of which led to 21 Kent State points.
"We were zone blitzing and dropping off of our defensive lineman," said Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell. "I thought that created a little bit of an issue. We did it a couple of times and batted another one down a little bit later in the game. We try to affect the quarterback in as many ways as we can. One is by bringing pressure, another is by dropping defensive lineman, and another one is giving them different looks. I thought we did a good job of blending all three of those today."
It was easily Nova's worst performance of his young career.
"They pressured a lot more than we saw on film but there are no excuses," Nova said after the game.
There was also never a thought of pulling Nova in favor of backup junior Chas Dodd according to Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood.
"It wasn't [a] difficult [decision] for me because I felt like we were still in the game, still had enough possessions to try to win the game," Flood said of the quarterback situation. "If we had gotten to the point where that wasn't the case, I might have gone a different route. …It wasn't a hard decision for me. I think again it's one of those learning experiences that is not enjoyable, certainly not enjoyable to watch, but it's not enjoyable for [Nova] to experience it either. I think it's going to be critical to his progression going forward as a quarterback here."
The Rutgers defense also came out and found itself on its heels as the Kent State offense spread them out and moved the ball downfield rather methodically at times.
"I wouldn't say we got blindsided, I just don't think we played with as much heart or as much energy as we usually do," said senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone, who finished with 7 tackles and was one of the few bright spots on defense. "We had the crowd behind us and we have to take advantage of that. We have to play with more heart and more urgency."
Senior safety Duron Harmon offered his take on the loss.
"I would probably say we came out a little flat, but at the end of the day we have to stop them. We didn't stop them and that's why they scored 35 points. They threw a little wrinkles in here but we knew what they were going to do. They did it and they executed way better than our defense."
Rutgers had its share of chances in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter with three drives as it faced a 12-point deficit. But two Nova interceptions and a three and out spoiled any chance for a comeback.
"Seven turnovers, very difficult to win a football game when you turn it over seven times," Flood said. "All the reasons really we've been standing here and talking about how we've won games; protecting the football, running the football, starting field position. Really all three of those phases hurt us in one way or another today."
The game will not hurt Rutgers in its race for a Big East championship, but it will likely tarnish its reputation on a national scale. The loss will also have some extra time to marinate as the Scarlet Knights now have a bye week before they next take the field at home on Nov 10 against Army.
"We're not going to hold our heads down," said sophomore wide receiver Brandon Coleman, who caught five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. "The Big East is still in our hands and we just have to keep going from here. The fact that we don't play next weekend is going to build the fire even more."