Detroit — Gary Nova will make his final appearance as Rutgers starting quarterback when the Scarlet Knights play North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl on Friday at Ford Field.
Nova has made many memories as a four-year starter, including leading Rutgers to its first Big Ten win with a 26-24 victory over Michigan on Oct. 4, a Saturday night in front of the home fans. He threw for 404 yards to make sure the Scarlet Knights earned the historical win.
"It was a great win, especially coming off a loss to Penn State in our Big Ten opener in a similar situation, at home on a Saturday night," said Nova, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior from New Jersey. "It was a tremendous moment, watching the fans storm on to the field. We played well in all three phases to get the win. Our offensive line did a great job, our receivers made some great catches and we ran the ball well enough to keep them honest."
Still, it was Nova who had the hot hand, completing 22-of-39 for 404 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. After Michigan took a 17-12 lead with 1:43 left in the half, Nova led Rutgers on a 75-yard, 11-play drive, topped off with a 7-yard TD pass to John Tsimis for a 19-17 lead. He then found Andrew Turzilli for a 14-yard TD pass early in the fourth to open up a 26-17 cushion.
"I'm proud to say I've played in the Big Ten, playing in front of great crowds against those teams with such great traditions," said Nova who threw for 2,667 yards and 20 TDs with 12 interceptions.
His primary receiver has been 6-1, 205-pound junior Leonte Carroo (53 receptions, 1,043 yards, 10 TDs).
Nova has had his share of comeback wins this season, including a 50-yard drive which led to the winning TD with 31/2 minutes left in a 41-38 season-opening win at Washington State, and then from a 35-10 first-half deficit to win the season finale at Maryland, 41-38.
Nova rallied the Scarlet Knights back from the 25-point deficit at Maryland by completing 23-of-30 passes for 291 yards and two TDs the rest of the way.
"We were stopping ourselves in that Maryland game," said Nova who completed 9-of-14 for 95 yards and a TD during a two-minute drill to narrow the gap to 35-17 at halftime. "That two-minute drive before half was big and everyone was positive at halftime. Then, we had a big kickoff return by Janarion Grant (71 yards) to start the second half."
Nova enjoys playing in Kyle Flood's pro-style offense and said he has learned a lot from new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, the former head coach of Maryland.(2001-10).
"It's a pro-style offense, a true NFL offense with two tight ends, one tight end, under center, seven-step drop, five-step drop, vertical routes," Nova said. "I have great knowledge in it being in it for four years, but Coach Friedgen has really helped since he's one of the best teachers in the game, winning a national title, coaching in a Super Bowl. He just gave me a better understanding of how to watch film, how everything's like a puzzle."
Friedgen was a longtime assistant to former Lions head coach Bobby Ross, working for Ross at Georgia Tech when it won a national title in 1990, then with Ross when the Chargers played in the Super Bowl 20 years ago.
Nova will try to lead Rutgers to its first bowl win as a starter. He was a backup when Rutgers defeated Iowa State in the Pinstripe Bowl in 2011, then was the starter in a double-overtime loss to Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando in 2012 and in a Pinstripe Bowl loss to Notre Dame last year.
"We're excited with the opportunity to play in Detroit, especially since it's inside," said Nova, noting the weather played a factor in the games at Yankee Stadium. "I think we appreciate the opportunity to play in NFL stadiums since we have in the past."
And, Flood appreciates Nova running the offense. Nova was recruited by former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano and then replaced by Flood, the program's offensive line and assistant head coach under Schiano.
"Gary's had a good year for us," Flood said. "He's a two-time offensive player of the week in the Big Ten with his performance against Michigan, then from when he brought us back from a 35-10 deficit to win the game 41-38 on the road at Maryland. Now, we have an opportunity to win a bowl game and showcase our program. There will be a lot of people watching."
Gary Nova at Rutgers
North Carolina vs. Rutgers
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. Friday, Ford Field, Detroit
Outlook: Rutgers (Big Ten) got off to a strong start, winning five of its first six before dropping four of its last six, including one-sided setbacks to Ohio State (56-17), Wisconsin (37-0) and Michigan State (45-3). North Carolina, which has the nation's No. 24 passing attack, defeated Top 25 teams Duke and Georgia Tech and went toe-to-toe with Notre Dame midway through the season before falling.
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