Tag:Gary Nova
Posted on: December 30, 2011 6:49 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 6:52 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Rutgers 27, Iowa State 13



Posted by Chip Patterson


RUTGERS WON. The Scarlet Knights jumped out to a 17-6 halftime lead thanks to some stellar running from Jawan Jamison, and the defense held off a late charge by Iowa State for a 27-13 win in the Pinstripe Bowl.

HOW RUTGERS WON: It didn't matter whether Chas Dodd or Gary Nova was under center for Rutgers, as long as they were handing the ball off to Jawan Jamison. The sophomore running back was a star for the Scarlet Knights on Friday, rushing 27 times for 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Iowa State also featured a performance from their backup quarterback, but Steele Jantz' appearance on the Yankee Stadium field more out of necessity. Starting quarterback Jared Barnett sacked by Khaseem Greene early in the second quarter, coughed up the ball and was apparently rattled from the hit. Jantz struggled early but was able to mount a couple of impressive drives into Rutgers' territory to keep things interesting late in the game.

WHEN RUTGERS WON: After Jantz led a scoring drive to cut the Rutgers lead to 20-13, the Scarlet Knights delivered the ultimate answer with a 86 yard touchdown pass from Chas Dodd to Brandon Coleman. Dodd simply tossed the ball deep and high for the 6-foot-6 wide receiver, who used his 11-inch height advantage to pull down the ball over the defender and carry it to the end zone. Much of the emotion and momentum on the Iowa State sideline was erased, as the Cyclones then faced a two-touchdown deficit with less than ten minutes to play.

WHAT RUTGERS WON: Redemption. Finishing the 2010 season with six straight losses led to some serious discontent within the Rutgers community. Head coach Greg Schiano spoke before the season about bringing the toughness back to Rutgers football. Getting things done on the ground, and winning games with defense were the hopes for his 2011 team, and that's exactly how they won the Pinstripe Bowl on Friday.

WHAT IOWA STATE LOST: An opportunity to finish an already successful season with a win. The Cyclones have had a much better season than their 6-7 record indicates, and not just because they knocked off Oklahoma State in arguably the biggest upset of the season. Paul Rhoads has plenty of these pieces coming back next season, but replacing offensive coordinator Tom Herman will be his first and most important offensive challenge. Jared Barnett can have a bright future with the Cyclones, and this overachieving squad will be back for more in 2012.

THAT WAS CRAZY: Anytime you have football in Yankee Stadium it's an odd experience to observe. The fans were right on top of the end zone in some areas, but empty stands behind midfield stood out in the awkwardly attended stadium.

FINAL GRADE: C+. Iowa State fans will walk away with that empty feeling, because of Jared Barnett's injury. Steele Jantz was able to channel some of his early-season success late in the fourth quarter to keep it interesting, but it still doesn't compare to the threat the offense presents with Barnett under center.

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Posted on: December 28, 2011 11:06 pm
 

Pinstripe Bowl Key Matchup



Posted by Chip Patterson


A look at the key matchup that could decide the Pinstripe Bowl

Jawan Jamison, RB, Rutgers vs. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State

Rutgers had one of the worst rushing offenses in the nation this season, finishing with an average of 91.5 yards per game. That mark put them at No. 115 among FBS schools, and has become is an immediate concern with head coach Greg Schiano indecisive about his starting quarterback for the bowl game. However, the dreadful statistics from the season do mask one glimmer of hope for the Scarlet Knights' rushing attack: sophomore Jawan Jamison.

Jamison ran for 90+ yards four different times this season, including a 200 yard, two touchdown performance in a 20-3 win against Cincinnati. It wasn't always consistent, but when Jamison got going good things happened for the Scarlet Knights. Schiano would prefer the run to set up the pass with his shaky quarterback situation, and the best chance he has is with Jamison.

The responsibility to keep Jamison in check will fall on Iowa State linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. The pair combined for 208 tackles this season, tied for the most of any other defensive duo in the Big 12. They will need to stuff the run early to force either Gary Nova or Chas Dodd into third and long situations. Then you can hope the turnover prone Scarlet Knights will slip up, giving Iowa State a chance to capitalize on the opportunity. But if Jamison can establish the run, he will give better coverage opportunities to All-Big East wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.

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Posted on: December 28, 2011 10:59 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Pinstripe Bowl

Posted by Chip Patterson

RUTGERS WILL WIN IF: They can limit turnovers and establish the run early. The Scarlet Knights have been their own worst enemy at times this season, turning the ball over more times (28) than any team in the Big East. The impact on the game's result has been clear, with Rutgers averaging 3.25 turnovers per game in their four losses while the average in their eight wins was 1.875. Head coach Greg Schiano has stressed a desire to let the run setup the pass in this matchup, and that will require a strong showing from sophomore running back Jawan Jamison. Jamison has been up and down during the regular season, and the Pinstripe Bowl will be his first healthy opportunity to follow up on his 200 yard, two touchdown effort in a win over Cincinnati on Nov. 19. Jamison suffered an ankle injury early in the regular season finale against Connecticut, and the offense sputtered down the stretch in a 40-22 loss.

IOWA STATE WILL WIN IF: They can get a big performance from Jared Barnett. The freshman quarterback took over the starting job midway through the season, finishing with a 3-2 record as a starter. Barnett was a huge part of Iowa State's upset of Oklahoma State, throwing for 376 yards and adding 84 rushing yards in the overtime win. The rookie sensation was not given an easy task for an encore, having to finish the season on the road against Oklahoma and Kansas State. But with extra time to prepare, expect the Cyclones to utilize Barnett along with running backs James White (701 yards, eight touchdowns) and Jeff Woody (360 yards, five touchdowns) in a spread zone read attack. If Iowa State can spread that disciplined Rutgers defense and create some gaps, Barnett, White, and Woody should have opportunities to create big plays for the Cyclones.

X-FACTOR: Iowa State's offensive preparation. Head coach Paul Rhodes holds no ill-will towards offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who has accepted the same position on Urban Meyer's staff at Ohio State. But before making the final move to Columbus, Herman has pledged his dedication to preparation and execution of a game plan for the Pinstripe Bowl. Herman's creativity and talent as a play-caller has been obvious in Iowa State's surprising success during the 2011 season, and freshman quarterback Jared Barnett will need as much guidance as he can get heading into his first career bowl start. It's only natural to wonder if Tom Herman's focus over the holiday season has been split between the two positions, and question if that will have an effect in Iowa State's preparation for Rutgers.

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Posted on: November 27, 2011 2:00 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 2:29 am
 

Big East Winners and Losers: Week 13



Posted by Chip Patterson


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: Charlie Strong

In his first year, Charlie Strong was showered with praise for his ability to pull a veteran group together and give the seniors their first bowl win at Louisville. Expectations were tempered heading into 2011, with the Cardinals having to replace departed veterans up and down the depth chart. With the 34-24 win against South Florida on Friday, Louisville wrapped up their best conference record since Bobby Petrino's final season in 2006. But this success carries with it an extra feeling of accomplishment, bouncing back from early season losses to FIU and Marshall. Strong seemed frustrated at times this season, using phrases like "we just need to teach the game of football" to explain the status of his young team. But the Cardinals improved as the season progressed, and delivered their best performance when it counts in league play. With Strong's momentum and this young roster, it would not be surprising to see Louisville in the mix for the Big East title for the foreseeable future.

LOSER: BCS dreams for Rutgers and Pittsburgh

Rutgers and Pittsburgh fell from contention for a share of the Big East title - and thus a shot at a BCS bowl game - with devastating losses in Week 13. Pittsburgh gave up a 20-7 second half lead on West Virginia and Rutgers turned the ball over six times to help Connecticut run away with a 40-22 win. With the Scarlet Knights and Panthers out of the mix, the Big East title race has narrowed to three contenders: Louisville, Cincinnati, and West Virginia.

Louisville has finished their season with a 5-2 conference record, while the Mountaineers and Bearcats each have one game remaining. Here are the possible scenarios and outcomes in the hunt for a BCS bowl bid.

SCENARIO I
Cincinnati defeats Connecticut, South Florida defeats West Virginia. RESULT: Cincinnati earns BCS bid
SCENARIO II
Connecticut defeats Cincinnati, West Virginia defeats South Florida. RESULT: Louisville earns BCS bid
SCENARIO III
Connecticut defeats Cincinnati, South Florida defeats West Virginia. RESULT: Louisville earns BCS bid
SCENARIO IV
Cincinnati defeats Connecticut, West Virginia defeats South Florida. RESULT: Three-way tie for Big East title. BCS bid determined by highest ranking in BCS standings.

WINNER: The Rebuilt Cincinnati Offense

Most figured that Zach Collaros' absence from the Cincinnati offense would lead to some struggles, but the Bearcats' Big East title hopes looked dim after the first full game without him resulted in just three points. Backup Munchie Legaux looked out-of-rhythm all afternoon in the 20-3 loss to Rutgers, completing just 12 of 31 passes and picking up only 31 rushing yards on 12 attempts. Earlier this week head coach Butch Jones suggested the possibility of using two quarterbacks against Syracuse, giving more snaps to dual-threat sophomore Jordan Luallen. Luallen ended up being the perfect change of pace for the Bearcats' offense, and finished as the team's second-leading rusher with 77 yards.

The pair made the two-QB rotation work at Cincinnati, finally hitting a rhythm and putting together a five scoring drives in the final 35 minutes of play. But the star of the Bearcats' big conference win was not a new face, but an all-too familiar one for Big East opponents. Senior running back Isaiah Pead picked up 80 yards rushing and 112 yards receiving out of the backfield on the way to 246 all-purpose yard performance to lead the Bearcats. Pead has been a force for Cincinnati, and is just 38 rushing yards away from his second-straight 1,000 yard season. The win has put Cincinnati one win away from claiming a share of the Big East title, and the decisive win should help in the BCS rankings for a potential three-team tiebreaker.

LOSER: Pittsburgh RB Zach Brown

The fact that Pittsburgh has been able to stay in contention for a Big East BCS bid even after losing Ray Graham to a season-ending knee injury is astounding. Graham was the nations second-leading rusher at the time of his injury, averaging over 130 yards per game and contributing over 40% of Pittsburgh's total offense. Quarterback Tino Sunseri and backup running back Zach Brown were able to carry the offensive load in a crucial road win at Louisville last week, and appeared to have the Panthers set up for another in Morgantown. Pitt led 17-7 when Brown was injured on a long run in the final moments of the first half. For the remainder of the game, third-stringer Isaac Bennett carried the running back responsibilities almost exclusively. Bennett did finish with 69 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but there was a noticeable drop off in pass protection as Sunseri was sacked 10 times - including four times on the final drive. The entire offense struggled throughout the second half, only producing a Kevin Harper field goal in the early third quarter, and Brown's injury was the most noticeable change. Regardless of the fault, the Panthers are out of the Big East title hunt and now need a win over Syracuse to be bowl eligible.

WINNER: Connecticut's bowl hopes

Needing to win out against Rutgers and Cincinnati seemed like a daunting task for an inconsistent Connecticut team to become bowl eligible, but that campaign received new life in a 40-22 beatdown of the Scarlet Knights on Saturday. The Huskies got it done with big plays from their defense, special teams, and a bruising rushing attack led by freshman Lyle McCombs. Quarterbacks Johnny McEntee and Scott McCummings were given fantastic field position all day, benefiting from six Rutgers turnovers and a couple of big returns by Nick Williams. Once they got the ball close to the goal line, it was up to McCombs and McCummings to McGet the job done. The duo combined for all four of the Huskies' offensive touchdowns, giving the Huskies a 30-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. It's been a rough first season for head coach Paul Pasqualoni, but a .500 record and a bowl berth would be a great finish considering the 2-4 start in East Hartford.

LOSER: Backyard Brawl as a Big East tradition

With Pittsburgh and West Virginia both on the move out of the Big East, Friday's edition of the Backyard Brawl was possibly the last meeting of rivals as conference foes. As of Saturday Pittsburgh is still planning on an arrival in the ACC in 2014, while Oliver Luck and West Virginia have taken the legal route to try and join the Big 12 by next season. The Big East chapter of the West Virginia-Pittsburgh rivalry has been memorable, with the game serving as annual late-season highlight of the conference schedule since the Mountaineers joined in 1995. Four of the last five meetings between the two teams have been decided by one score or less, with the 21-20 West Virginia win being the closest contest since a 31-31 tie in 1989. The rivalry outdates the Big East, so I would guess the two schools will figure a way to keep it going. But Big East football fans have a less certain future when it comes to enjoying this showdown of bitter rivals as part of the conference schedule.

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Posted on: October 30, 2011 4:03 am
 

Big East Winners and Losers: Week 9



Posted by Chip Patterson


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: West Virginia's BCS title hopes

Trailing by 10 at halftime on the road against Rutgers in swirling snow, West Virginia faced the possibility of dropping their second straight conference game. It could have been a repeat of 2010, when back-to-back conference losses caused West Virginia to lose a three-team tie for the conference title. The Mountaineers were denied a trip to a BCS bowl and instead found themselves playing in the Champs Sports Bowl in December.

But the Mountaineers' defense got opportunistic in the second half, and Shawne Alston led a ground attack that seemed to catch the Scarlet Knights off guard. The 20-0 shut out in the final two quarters helped seal the 41-31 victory and keep West Virginia alive in the hunt for the Big East title. Cincinnati is still undefeated, but West Virginia will have an opportunity to claim the tiebreaker over the Bearcats in another road test in two weeks. They'll likely need to win out in order to win the conference, but at least they still control their destiny.

LOSER: Gary Nova

When freshman quarterback Gary Nova replaced Chas Dodd as the starting quarterback at Rutgers, he received praise for his maturity despite being a true freshman. But on Saturday Nova showed his age playing against a tough opponent in hostile conditions. As the snowy mix fell from the sky during Rutgers' 41-31 loss to West Virginia, Nova began to lose his control of the ball as the game progressed. Two fumbles under center halted Scarlet Knights' drives during a frustrating second half for Rutgers. With a 10-point halftime lead, it looked as though the Scarlet Knights were poised to pull the upset in the strange playing conditions. But the inability to sustain a drive led to a disappointing finish, as Rutgers was held scoreless through the entire second half.

WINNER: Louisville's offense

It's hard to tell if Louisville's offensive growth is a credit to the changes on the coaching staff or Teddy Bridgewater's development, but either way things are moving in the right direction for the Cardinals. Louisville put up 343 total yards of offense and a season-high 27 points in the victory over Syracuse on Saturday. Teddy Bridgwater was sharp in the pocket, completing 17 of 24 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns and - most importantly - no interceptions.

It was a huge win for Charlie Strong's squad, which despite their early season struggles currently sit just one game out of first place in the Big East. All of the sudden, Louisville is looking at the possibilities of another postseason berth under the second-year coach. The improvements to the offense have helped the team settle on their identity, and Saturday was a moment of arrival for the Cardinals.

LOSER: Connecticut's quarterbacks

While Connecticut's quarterback rotation has narrowed to Johnny McEntee as the starter and Scott McCummings as your change-of-pace running threat, the strength of the position has not improved all season. Johnny McEntee looked like a walk-on against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, completing just 17 of 33 passes for 193 yards. He threw no interceptions, though probably should have been picked off 3-4 times by packaging misread passes right into the hands of the Panthers' defense. McEntee looks nervous under pressure, and does not avoid sacks well at all.

Unfortunately for first-year head coach Paul Pasqualoni, there just aren't many options offensively other than to tough it out with what he has. Freshman running back Lyle McCombs has been promising, and notched another 100-yard performance (his fifth of the season) with the 124 yard output against Pittsburgh. It is a frustrating moment to realize that "this is the best you are going to do," but that's exactly what Connecticut fans have with their offense right now.

WINNER: Cincinnati 

Even though the Bearcats were off, Butch Jones and Co. were winners in Week 9. As the rest of the league spent the weekend beating each other up and shuffling the conference standings, the Bearcats remain at their position on top. Undefeated in league play, the Bearcats still control their destiny in terms of the Big East title and a BCS bowl bid. Arguably two of the toughest challenges on the schedule await Cincinnati in the next two weeks with a road trip to Pittsburgh and a home game against West Virginia. Getting the extra week to rest and prepare, while Rutgers and Syracuse (both road games in late November) fell an extra game behind in the standings made Week 9 enjoyable for Cincinnati fans with Big East title hopes.

LOSER: Syracuse's momentum 

Syracuse is one of the least-consistent 5-3 teams in the nation right now. The Orange failed to reach bowl eligibility on Saturday with their 27-10 loss at the hands of Louisville. They looked uninspired, lifeless, and completely different from the squad that knocked off West Virginia 49-23 last weekend. Of course, THAT team looked different than the one that squeaked out a 37-34 win over Tulane. There is no continuity or consistency to the play of Syracuse this season, something that makes them wildly unpredictable and still dangerous in Big East play.

With four conference games left, it would take a meltdown for Doug Marrone not to take Syracuse back to the postseason. Unfortunately picking up their second conference loss likely plays them out of the Big East title race. All of the momentum Syracuse had after the big West Virginia win is gone, and now the Orange will try to get it back next week against Connecticut on the road.


WINNER: Eric LeGrand

We've covered this moment extensively today, but I figured it was worth one last post. The inspiring video of Eric LeGrand re-joining his teammates on the field before Rutgers-West Virginia.



LOSER: Ray Graham


Pittsburgh's offense took a hit on Wednesday night, with star running back Ray Graham suffering a knee injury that will require season-ending surgery. In a roller-coaster season for Pittsburgh's offense, Graham has been the only steady component. The junior running back entered the weekend as the nation's second-leading rusher, averaging 135 yards per game. Graham is the perfect back for head coach Todd Graham's offensive scheme, providing a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield as well. Heading into the Panthers' 35-20 win over Connecticut, Graham accounted for nearly 40% of the Pittsburgh's offensive yards. The one bit of good news was how the rest of the offense responded to the injury. Quarterback Tino Sunseri played his best game of the season, throwing for 419 yards and leading the Panthers in rushing with 40 yards and a touchdown. Pittsburgh (4-4) will need more of that from Sunseri if they plan to be playing football in late December.


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Posted on: October 29, 2011 7:42 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 7:44 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 25 West Virginia 41, Rutgers 31

Posted by Chip Patterson

WEST VIRGINIA WON. The Mountaineers outscored Rutgers 20-0 in the second half to climb out of a hole in snowy Piscataway and win 41-31. With wind and weather playing a factor in the game, West Virginia leaned on their rushing game to avoid dropping their second straight conference game. The defense tightened up at halftime and forced four Rutgers turnovers, shutting down every attempt at a comeback.

HOW WEST VIRGINIA WON: The Mountaineers entered the game ranked 100th nationally in rushing, but with the wind and snow hampering the air attack West Virginia needed production on the ground. The offense ran the ball 37 times against Rutgers, their second highest total of the season. Shawne Alston and Dustin Garrison led the ground attack, which produced four of the Mountaineers' six touchdowns. Short passes to Tavon Austin added to the ground attack, allowing the talented wide receiver to make plays in space on the snowy surface.

WHEN WEST VIRGINIA WON: The entire second half belonged to the Mountaineers, but Geno Smith's touchdown run to give them the lead in the fourth quarter was a pivotal moment in the victory. It was a 4th and Goal playcall with West Virginia trailing by three, and Dana Holgorsen knew he had the Rutgers defense on their heels. The touchdown capped off an 11 play, 89 yard drive that ate up almost five minutes of game clock. It was a dominant series for the Mountaineers' offense and set the tone for the rest of the game.

WHAT WEST VIRGINIA WON: The Mountaineers avoided their second conference loss in the comeback victory, and remains in the hunt for the Big East title. Two losses in league play will generally make it difficult to finish on top of the standings in the eight team round-robin Big East schedule. Losing two of their first three conference contests would have made making a BCS bowl game extremely difficult. It was also a great test of the Mountaineers' resiliency, which was called into question in the loss to Syracuse.

WHAT RUTGERS LOST: The Scarlet Knights desperately needed a strong showing on Saturday on the heels of the 16-14 loss to Louisville. Leading 31-21 at halftime, it looked like Greg Schiano's squad had the gameplan ready to knock off the Mountaineers. The second half turnovers and inability to sustain a drive gave Geno Smith and the West Virginia offense too many opportunities to take, then extend, the lead.

THAT WAS CRAZY: Not crazy, but certainly special. Eric LeGrand leading the Scarlet Knights onto the field before the game.



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Posted on: October 23, 2011 12:19 am
Edited on: October 23, 2011 3:14 am
 

Big East Winners and Losers: Week 8



Posted by Chip Patterson


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: The Big East

Entering conference play, I was curious to see how long it would take the league to figure out a way to slow West Virginia. There are plenty of great coaches in the Big East, and the backloaded conference schedule usually allows plenty of preparation material. Syracuse showed the conference how to beat West Virginia, and also opened up the race for the Big East title with their 49-23 win in the Carrier Dome on Friday.

The Syracuse defense sent extra pressure at Geno Smith all night, getting in his face and bringing him to the ground on four different occasions. The extra pressure got to Smith and he began to force throws from the pocket, which led to two big interceptions for the Orange defense. Until the Mountaineers prove they can counter, look for more Big East opponents to bring extra pressure to try and rattle Smith in the coming weeks.

LOSER: The Big East

While Syracuse's victory did show the rest of the league a way to slow down and possibly defeat the Mountaineers, it also eliminated the Big East's best chance of having a team finish high in the final BCS standings. As conferences look towards 2013 and the renewal of the BCS automatic bids, one concern to meet the requirements involves teams ranked in the final BCS standings.

The Big East has struggled in the polls and BCS standings in recent years, and not meeting the requirements for an automatic bid is one reason why the reported "Global Conference" has become an option. Cincinnati would likely have to run the table to finish with a high ranking, and if this weekend showed us anything it is how hard running the table has become in the Big East.

WINNER: Butch Jones

It is fairly difficult to be on the hot seat after just one season, but Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones was pretty close to it after the Bearcats finished 4-8 in 2010. There was no dissension in the program, but many fans were quick to doubt if Jones was the right choice to replace Brian Kelly.

But here in Week 8 of the 2011 season, there is only one unbeaten team left in the Big East - and it is Jones' Bearcats. Pulling Cincinnati back into bowl eligibility this early in the season takes a lot of pressure off Jones' shoulders, as he can now turn his teams' focus towards claiming their third Big East title in four years.

LOSER: South Florida's defense

BJ Daniels threw for 409 yards, three touchdowns, led the Bulls in rushing, and most importantly threw no interceptions. But it wasn't enough to snap South Florida's losing streak. Daniels put together what appeared to be a game-winning drive with 1:27 left when he found Andre Davis for a touchdown to give the Bulls a 34-30 lead.

But the defense could not come up with a stop, allowing Zach Collaros to march 70 yards in seven plays over a 75 second span. A pass interference call in the end zone was the final mistake for South Florida's defense, allowing the Bearcats to set up 1st and Goal from the two yard line. There were plenty of mistakes throughout the game, but the defense's inability to stop Cincinnati in the fourth quarter led to the third straight loss for the Bulls.

WINNER: Syracuse tight ends Nick Provo and David Stevens

Part of Syracuse's gameplan for taking down West Virginia involved using the play action to match up the tight ends with the Mountaineers linebackers in coverage. What the Orange revealed to the rest of the conference was a dramatic weakness in this year's version of Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 defense. Tight ends Nick Provo and David Stevens combined for 95 yards and four touchdowns on eight catches. After biting on the play-fake, Ryan Nassib would roll out and locate a tight end off his release in the perfect soft spot of West Virginia's defense. Provo and Stevens are among the better tight ends in the conference, but the gameplan on Friday set them up for a huge night that Syracuse fans will remember for the rest of the season.

LOSER: Rutgers

There is no way the Scarlet Knights could have known it at the time, but they missed out on a great opportunity to gain a leg up on the Big East title hunt on Friday night. With West Virginia falling to Syracuse, Rutgers could have stepped forward with Cincinnati as the only teams left unbeaten in conference play. Until the 16-14 loss at Louisville, Greg Schiano's squad was putting together an impressive body of work. The defense was rigid, and the offense had been able put together enough plays to lead the Scarlet Knights to victory.

But Gary Nova, who had led the comeback against Navy just a week before, showed his youth against the Cardinals' multiple defensive looks. The three interceptions came at the worst times for Rutgers, who couldn't put together the final push in the fourth quarter to stay undefeated in league play. Rutgers has never won a Big East title, and now that dream is going to be a little tougher with West Virginia and Cincinnati left on the schedule.


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Posted on: October 18, 2011 12:00 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 3:19 pm
 

Eye On College Football Midseason Report Big East



Posted by Chip Patterson


Offensive Player of the Year: Geno Smith, West Virginia. In Dana Holgorsen's high-powered offense, the quarterback's communication with the head coach and on-field decision making is pertinent to the system's success. Smith has been a victim of a few slow starts, but has finished every game with an impressive offensive output. Smith is averaging 359.8 yards per game through the air, and completing 64.0 percent of his passes. His ability to find receivers in space has been crucial for the Mountaineers, who only recently found their running game. With 16 touchdowns and 3 interceptions there have been few mistakes for the talented junior, who's next challenge will be leading this team to a conference title. Also considered: Mohammed Sanu, Rutgers; Ray Graham, Pittsburgh; Tavon Austin, West Virginia.

Defensive Player of the Year: Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have jumped out to a fast start despite only recently finding certain answers at the quarterback and running back position. A huge part of that has been stout play on the defensive side of the ball, led by linebacker Steve Beauhamais. Rutgers' leads the Big East in scoring and total defense, with Beauhamais contributing 32 tackles and ranking 4th in the conference in tackles for loss. Beauhamais also has added 3.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions to cap off a well-rounded defensive stat line for the leader of one the league's best defensive units. Also considered: JK Schaffer, Cincinnati; Sio Moore, Connecticut; Terence Garvin, West Virginia.

Coach of the Year: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia.
After Bill Stewart's unplanned early exit, Dana Holgorsen deserves credit for stepping in and quickly taking ownership of the program. Much of the staff is still in place, including defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, but there has been no apparent dissension within the program since Holgorsen's promotion. The most conflict Morgantown has seen was the head coach's shot at the fan base after a home game played before a well-below-capacity crowd. Also considered: Greg Schiano, Rutgers; Butch Jones, Cincinnati.

Surprise: Rutgers. With a 5-1 start and two conference victories under their belt, head coach Greg Schiano has all but erased the horrid memories of the 2010 season. While they've shuffled the quarterback and running back positions, arriving on Gary Nova and Jawan Jamison as the apparent starters, the defense ranks 12th nationally only allowing 16.0 points per game. It hasn't always been pretty, but the Scarlet Knights are finding ways to win. Also considered: Cincinnati

Disappointment: Pittsburgh. After promises of "high-octane football," head coach Todd Graham has very little to show from his no-octane Pittsburgh Panthers. There is very little consistency on either side of the ball, with the offense riding running back Ray Graham to stellar performances at times (South Florida) and failing to find the end zone in other contests (Utah). With the talent returning from last season's squad, the Panthers were projected to challenge their backyard rivals for the Big East title. After losing four of their last five, a return to the postseason is even in doubt. Also considered: Louisville.

Game of the Year So Far: Wake Forest at Syracuse. The Orange overcame a 20-7 halftime deficit to knock off Wake Forest 36-29 in overtime on the first night of the college football season. Quarterback Ryan Nassib picked apart a Wake Forest back seven for 15 fourth-quarter points to kick off a "win by any means"-type season for the Orange. Also considered: Maryland at West Virgina.

Game of the Year (To Come): West Virginia at Cincinnati. Three teams poised to race for the Big East title down the stretch seem to be these two teams along with Rutgers. The only way to ensure a championship is to go undefeated in conference play and this is the best chance for someone to knock off the Mountaineers. The Bearcats have an offense that can keep up with West Virginia in a shootout, and their defense is one of the best in the nation at forcing turnovers. Look for Paul Brown Stadium to be lubed up and rocking when West Virginia comes to town on Nov. 12.

CHAMPION: West Virgina. It will take at least one upset or a furious charge from Cincinnati or Rutgers to keep the Mountaineers from claiming the Big East title and returning to a BCS bowl.

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