In a post-game statement following Saturday’s win, Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood captured how all college football coaches feel, “I don’t think you want to get outside your comfort zone unless you really have to.”
Flood was responding to the question of whether it was difficult for the Rutgers offense to be patient and keep its character despite the score being 7-7 with less than nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter. His coaching maxim encapsulates this Scarlet Knights squad perfectly: whether they win or lose, they will be steadfast to the game dictated by their team identity. But on a rare trick play and go route, the Knights swung the game from their typically Tea Party-conservative offense, and stepped outside their comfort zone was what catalyzed the win.
Deviation from the normal first came on a gambit the Knights used when they employed the halfback option. Running back Jawan Jamison ran a sweep to the right, but stopped moving towards the line of scrimmage, looked downfield and threw a pass to receiver Brandon Coleman, who had man coverage in the end zone. Coleman used the advantage of his Redwood-tree size and deft athleticism to outmaneuver the Army cornerback for Rutgers’ first touchdown, tying the game at seven all.
The game-winning touchdown came when quarterback Gary Nova got excellent pass protection and Coleman beat his defensive back on a fade pattern to the right side of the end zone. Coleman galloped past his man on the go route, and Nova threw a phenomenally placed touchdown pass hitting Coleman in stride. Rutgers would go up 14-7 on that pitch-and-catch, a lead they would never relinquish.
The Knights’ defense and special teams are consistently relied on to make game-changing plays (Rutgers collected three lost fumbles), and once again they were up to the task. Jamal Merrell and Marcus Cooper blocked two field goals, and Rutgers’ subsequent touchdowns following Coleman’s touchdown reception pushed the margin to 28-7.
The third Knights touchdown was set up by a poor Army snap that sailed over punter Josh Jackson’s head, with the airborne ball finally landing inside the 5-yard line. What proceeded was a mad scramble for the ball, with Rutgers ultimately gaining possession on the 1-yard line due to the botched fourth down (Savon Huggins ran it in two plays later for a 2-yard touchdown).
On the Scarlet Knights’ final touchdown, safety Duron Harmon utilized his excellent anticipation by intercepting a lateral from Trent Steelman on the option, taking the fumble recovery 73-yards for the touchdown.
Rutgers once again made the most of important, decisive, game-altering moments. When it matters most (the second half), Rutgers has proven they do not break. They are comfortable winning close games even if their opponent accrues more first downs and offensive yards (Army did).
First half woes (tie score with a two-win Army team with Rutgers coming off a bye week) and third-down conversions (2 of 9) continue to linger as a concern with the Scarlet Knights’ final three opponents being formidable Big East teams. Louisville’s flop Saturday against an embattled Syracuse University team gives Rutgers the inside track to the Big East title. However, there is a lesson to be learned coming out of Saturday’s victory.
The saying goes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, meaning you cannot change a person set in his ways. But whether you can teach a Rutgers program set in its philosophy to incorporate a new trick or quick-strike vertical pass play, may determine whether the Scarlet Knights finally fulfill the holy grail of winning that elusive first Big East title.