Rutgers had to be feeling a bit of déjà vu against Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic bowl.
For the second time in as many games, the Scarlet Knights gave up a late lead en route to a loss. This time, Rutgers led 10-0 into the fourth quarter and watched Virginia Tech storm back and win in overtime after Nick Borgese missed a 42-yard field goal that would have tied the game in the extra period.
It was a strange turn of events because 20 minutes before that Rutgers' defense had stifled the Virginia Tech offense. Even though Rutgers offense was also as ineffective, the Scarlet Knights felt good about their 10-0 lead because the defense had been so stout. But a couple long passes later and the Hokies got on the board with a field goal. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova, who had the worst game of any quarterback so far this postseason, threw an ill-timed interception and Virginia Tech turned it into the game-tying touchdown.
It was just a month ago that Rutgers allowed a 14-3 second-half lead against Louisville slip away thanks to heroic play by Bearcats quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who was playing on an severely sprained ankle. The loss cost the Scarlet Knights a spot in a BCS bowl.
So as this game unfolded, Rutgers had to get that “here we go again” feeling on their sideline.
It’s hard to put this loss – the Scarlet Knights' first loss after winning five straight bowl games – on one players’ shoulders. The running game, which had carried Rutgers the bulk of the year, was abysmal. Borgese missed a field goal that would have given the Scarlet Knights a 13-0 lead and maybe the win. Coach Kyle Flood made some questionable fourth down calls, including two where he decided to go for it rather than kick a field goal.
But Nova really looked out of sorts and that put a lot of pressure on the rest of the team. As announcers were all to eager to point out, Nova never set his feet, made several poor decisions and was the reason why so many promising Rutgers drives were ultimately stunted. With several 6-foot-plus receivers at his disposal, Nova continually overthrew them or threw to their wrong shoulder. At times it looked like it was his first day playing the position.
The Scarlet Knights’ only touchdown came off a botched Virginia Tech snap and a fumble recovery in the end zone. Nova’s offense generated nothing. It finished with 197 yards of total offense – just one yard better than Virginia Tech – and Nova completed just 42.5 percent of his passes for 130 yards and a costly pick.
Rutgers’ 10-point lead never seemed safe because the offense was doing very little to help the defense.
The win allows Virginia Tech to stave off its first losing record since 1992. And while it was a disappointing 7-6 finish, the Hokies did win their final three contests.
Rutgers dropped their final three, missed out on the third 10-win season in program history and will go into the offseason wondering what might have been.
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