Demolition In Detroit: Rutgers Steamrolls The Tar Heels To Punctuate Their Inaugural Season In The Big Ten
There were some moments this year. A history making home opener turned disastrous meltdown to Penn State. A couple bumps in the road in shellackings at the hands of true conference powers Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. However, 8-5, including solid wins on the road against Washington State and Navy, a momentous win over a lackluster Michigan program, and wins over Indiana and Maryland (the latter coming in an outrageous come from behind fashion) are enough to declare the Scarlet Knights season a success. Hell, there isn't much more you could have realistically asked for. Especially if you fall into the 'doesn't matter if you win by an inch or a mile' category of fan. The only thing that could have been expected was to keep losses against the best the conference has to offer from being absolute debacles. It would have been nice to put our best foot forward in games against some of the more prestigious foes, yet it still would resulted in an 8 win season, at best.
What can't be denied is that Coach Kyle Flood survived a murderer's row of tough road games and was able to keep his team's head on straight. Rutgers had the hardest schedule in the conference this year. They have the hardest schedule in the conference next year as well, and they were able to finish ahead of well established programs like Penn State and Michigan, despite them suffering through tough years. With the way last season ended, Rutgers turned a year that could have decimated the program into a reason to optimistic for the future. The recruits will only get better, the opponents far less intimidating. Let's be serious, a program that has spent the last decade floundering in mediocrity hasn't been subjected to the level of football played in East Lansing or Columbus. They were bound to take a few on the chin. The more important thing for the coaching staff and the future is that they were able to get up from those and finish the season on a high note.
I don't know who was wearing Lorenzo Waters jersey yesterday, but it certainly wasn't the guy that turned missed tackles into a nearly uncountable statistic this year. Two fumble recoveries, a blocked field goal, 14 tackles that didn't occur 30 yards downfield? Way to pad those 'Zo. Nowhere to go but up on defense, how's that for glass half full? You want some more optimism. The last 3 quarters of the season saw the Scarlet Knights play stellar defense. Sure, the first half at Maryland was about as futile an effort defensively that the sport of football has ever seen, but it's about how you finish, right? Turnovers? Wrap up tackles? Maybe yesterday was a sign of things to come from the defense. People forget that despite the veteran presences of Darius Hamilton and Kevin Snyder, the unit as a whole, especially the secondary, is fairly young.
How could the offense not have you excited? With Carroo officially deciding to come back, the Scarlet Knights will return 4 of their top 5 wide receivers and all of their immensely talented running backs. Freshman running back tandem Josh Hicks (200 yards and a touchdown) and Robert Martin III (100 yards and a touchdown) have sparkled in nearly everyone of their opportunities. Almost so much so that they make the return of stud running back Paul James seem insignificant. In a run heavy conference, It seems Rutgers has an embarrassment of riches at an extremely vital position.
Quarterback, as is tradition in Piscataway, is still question mark. Next year, for the first time in 4 years, the answer to that question will not be Gary Nova. Gary went out on top, which is all you can ask from a career marred by the highest of highs and lowest of lows. If you take out a miserable performance against Penn State where he basically lost the game by himself, he had a very steady and solid year. The records he holds and the wins he was responsible for are an important part of Rutgers history and watching him walk away from this program a winner was maybe the most important part of yesterday's bowl game. As Gary wildly proclaimed amongst frenzied teammates prior to yesterday's contest, "It's more than a game!". I think the players, as well as the fan base, felt that. It's going to be a weird feeling for everyone to see someone other than Gary Nova taking snaps next year. To the person lucky enough to take on that roll, Darius Hamilton has some words of advice…
“Whoever's next up, God bless him,” defensive tackle Darius Hamilton said. “This is a tough job. When everything goes right, you're the man. When everything goes wrong, it's all on your shoulders. You have to look no further than Gary to know that.”