PISCATAWAY, N.J. (October 8, 2011) – A strong defensive effort by Rutgers and solid play from freshman quarterback Gary Nova (Elmwood Park, N.J.) propelled the Scarlet Knights to their second BIG EAST win of the season, defeating Pittsburgh, 34-10 Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium. RU’s defense forced four turnovers and recorded six sacks, while Nova completed 11-of-24 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns in the victory.
Rutgers improved to 4-1 (2-0 BIG EAST) with the effort, while Pitt fell to 3-3 (1-1 BIG EAST).
Junior Steve Beauharnais (Saddle Brook, N.J.) recorded his second interception in two weeks to key Rutgers’ first touchdown drive of the game and extended RU’s advantage to 13-3. The junior LB stepped in front of a pass from Pitt’s Trey Anderson at the Panthers’ 27-yard line and returned it nine yards to set the stage for RU’s offense with 7:01 left in the third quarter. Three plays later, it was Nova connecting with Mark Harrison (Stratford, Conn.) from six yards out for the touchdown.
Rutgers increased its lead to 20-3 with less than one minute remaining in the third quarter when Nova lofted a screen pass to the eager hands of senior fullback Joe Martinek (Hopatcong, N.J.). Martinek made the catch and took off untouched for 60 yards and the score.
Pitt responded with a 64-yard rush by running back Ray Graham to the Rutgers three. The Panther running back capped the drive with a three-yard plunge to set the score at 20-10.
RU answered immediately with a 73-yard kickoff return to Pitt’s 14-yard line by Jeremy Deering (Tampa, Fla.). Three-straight rushes from freshman RB Savon Huggins (Jackson, N.J.) helped RU expand its lead. Huggins rumbled his way into the end zone from three yards out to make it 27-10 in favor of Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights were on the scoreboard again when sophomore CB Logan Ryan (Berlin, N.J.) intercepted a Panther pass from Tino Sunseri and returned it 45 yards to the end zone to make the score 34-10 with 5:26 left in the game. The pick was Ryan’s second of the game and his career.
In first half action, San San Te (Conover, N.C.) kicked the Scarlet Knights to a 6-3 lead at the 9:17 mark in the second quarter by connecting on a 44-yard attempt. The RU specialist evened the score at 3-3 with 6:06 on the clock in the first quarter with a 50-yard field goal, matching a career long.
Rutgers forced two interceptions of Sunseri in the first half, with Ryan recording the first pick of his career and junior safety Duron Harmon (Magnolia, Del.) intercepting his fourth pass of the season.
Pitt struck first in the contest, scoring on a 29-yard field goal from kicker Kevin Harper with 10:39 remaining in the first quarter.
Rutgers returns to High Point Solutions Stadium for Homecoming Saturday, Oct. 15 against Navy. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. with live coverage on ESPN3.
POST GAME NOTES
• Rutgers (4-1, 2-0 BIG EAST) moved to first place in the BIG EAST with a convincing 34-10 victory over Pittsburgh (3-3, 1-1 BIG EAST) Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium.
• The Scarlet Knights are 2-0 in the BIG EAST for the second time in 21 seasons of conference play. The only other time RU started 2-0 in league play was 2006 as the Scarlet Knights finished the season 5-2 in the conference (tied for second).
• Game captains for Rutgers were junior TE D.C. Jefferson (Winter Haven, Fla.), junior WR Tim Wright (Wall, N.J.), junior LB Steve Beauharnais (Saddle Brook, N.J.) and junior LB Khaseem Greene (Elizabeth, N.J.).
• RU moved to 8-21 all-time vs. Pitt, including a 5-2 mark in the last seven meetings.
• Rutgers wore all black uniforms for the first time since the West Virginia game in 2007. For the first time in school history, RU donned black helmets.
• The first time Rutgers wore black jerseys was on November 2, 1920 vs. Nebraska at the Polo Grounds. Nebraska showed up in red uniforms at the Polo Grounds and the Targum reported, “… the defenders of the East were attired in black jerseys and stockings instead of the familiar scarlet, because their opponents had the same colors and the home team wished to show their sportsmanship by making the change.”
• The Scarlet Knights sacked Pitt quarterbacks six times on the night, the second-most in a game this season. RU entered the game tied for fourth nationally in sacks per game (3.5).
• Entering the game with the nation’s best turnover margin (+2.75), RU improved its totals in that category going +3 in the turnover department vs. Pitt. The Scarlet Knights totaled four interceptions vs. the Panthers, while turning it over just once.
• The Pitt offense, a week after scoring 44 points in a win over USF, was held to 10 points and was just 2-of-14 on third downs vs. the RU defense.
• The 10 points were a season-low for Pitt after entering the game averaging 30.6 points per game.
• The 24-point margin of victory for Rutgers was the largest in 29 all-time meetings against the Panthers.
• For the 49th time under Greg Schiano and the fourth time this season, RU scored a non-offensive touchdown Saturday vs. Pitt. Logan Ryan picked off his second pass of the night and returned the INT 45 yards for the score.
• Freshman QB Gary Nova (Elmwood Park, N.J.) became the sixth true freshman QB in school history to start under center and the fifth under head coach Greg Schiano. Nova finished the contest 11-of-24 passing for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his TD passes came in the second half – six yards to Mark Harrison (Stratford, Conn.) and 60-yards to Joe Martinek (Hopatcong, N.J.).
• Senior FB Joe Martinek’s 60-yard reception was the longest of his career. Martinek ended the game with two receptions for 63 yards.
• Senior DT Justin Francis (Opa-Locka, Fla.) was all over the field, totaling career-highs in tackles (eight), tackles-for-loss (four) and equaled a career-best with two sacks. He was also credited with three quarterback hurries.
• Junior LB Khaseem Greene (Elizabeth, N.J.), playing against his brother RB Ray Graham of Pitt, led RU with 11 tackles. He also totaled two tackles behind the line of scrimmage and 1.5 sacks.
• Freshman LB Kevin Snyder (Mechanicsburg, Pa.) had a career-best six tackles.
• Sophomore CB Logan Ryan (Berlin, N.J.) recorded his first two career interceptions, including a 45-yard return for a touchdown to close out the scoring for RU.
POST GAME QUOTES
Head Coach Greg Schiano
Opening Statement: “That was an old-fashioned Rutgers win – it was fun to be a part of. I am proud of our football players and I am proud of our coaches. There is something about the DNA of this team – the toughness, smart kids and smart coaches that stick together and are unselfish. That is the one thing that I am most proud of – how unselfish these guys are. I hope that we can just continue. Unfortunately Mike Larrow got hurt today and I think it might be for awhile, which really stinks. He was really coming on. These kids are a special group of kids and the way they are growing together is fun to be a part of every day.”
On starting QB Gary Nova: “Just through the staff and evaluations from what we see and practice and from his time in the game. Every decision we make is based on what gives us the best chance to win. They are both great kids, great competitors and really good quarterbacks. We know we have two quarterbacks. That is just what we decided on this week.”
On whether Chas Dodd was in consideration for playing time: “Yeah, we choose not to as the second half progressed. But yes, there was.”
On Gary Nova and big plays: “There were some rough stretches and there were some good stretches. That was an all-out blitz on that screen. You either get that one of or you get smacked back. Somehow we got it off and that was a huge play. The one thing that stands out to me on that play was Quron Pratt. He had a great game last week as far as the statistics go, but he is such an unselfish guy. That’s the thing that has me excited. Quron Pratt makes as key a block on that play as there is to spring Joe [Martinek]. There’s a guy, Joe, that was tailback and didn’t get as many touches but just busts his rear end in practice every day. That to me is good stuff.”
On the defense: “That was pretty good – I am proud of the way the kids played. Save maybe two plays, that was really good stuff. We lost our focus for a little bit at the end of the quarter there, but we got it back which I was glad to see. I think they played a physically very aggressive type of football – there was some hitting going on out there. That’s who we have to be because we are not going to be able to stand toe-to-toe with someone and slug it. We have to and hit and I was proud of the kids. They continue to create takeaways and score of defense. Logan [Ryan] had the best game of his career a week ago and without watching the tape I can’t say for sure, but he picked two off and scored off one. Unless he stunk in everything else, that’s a pretty good game. He is getting better and that has to be good.”
On sacks: “The kids did a good job and executed what we asked. I think as important as the sacks was that each time he threw the ball he was hit. That has a cumulative effect on a quarterback when he gets hit every snap.”
On being 2-0 in the BIG EAST: “It is good and I am excited about that. What we talk about in our room is that every week is a BIG EAST championship game – we don’t have a championship game so every week we play, it is the championship game. You don’t know what it is going to take to win this league. We will take them one at a time and at the end of the year we will add up our wins and see where it puts us. But it is exciting to be 2-0 in a good football league.
On the long kickoff return after giving up a touchdown: “That was huge. It was 20-10 at that point and we get in the huddle and you never know that you are going to do something. It felt really good. Jeremy Deering is another one of those guys – ‘what do you want me to do and I will do it.’ I know he wants more touches and carries, but everyone is kind of embracing their roles and maybe not loving it but embracing it to do the best that they can. That is a family. They keep competing and they can get a bigger role and a bigger slice of the pizza. I was proud of Jeremy and the team. Kevin Snyder had a big block on that one – it was good stuff.”
On the running game: “It takes patience to do what we did. Now if we were not playing defense the way we are, you can’t. That is part of the formula and part of what we believe in. At the end of the game, when you can impose your will to win the game, that has been our formula around here when we have had good teams.”
On maintaining field position: “I think in every game it is important. Field position equals points and that is how it works.
On the adjustments made on defense against the spread: “A lot of it – no doubt, we are not naïve. Our performance against spread teams hasn’t been great, but we made a couple changes in addition to the personnel. You look at our schedule and three of the teams in our league are spread teams. That’s one and we have two more.”
On Justin Francis: “Without watching the tape, it is hard [to judge]. During the game I watch down the field. On first and second down I make the call and then get the next call ready and be peaking up because they were going so fast. The thing about running the football is that it keeps it away from them – the clock ticks and ticks and ticks. They ran 91 plays last week and this week they ran 68. That was a critical part of the football game, a hidden part of the game.”
On in-game decisions and the defense: “That definitely influence your decision on how you are going to play it, but that is not the season it is within the game itself. The scary thing about this game is Ray Graham is a great football player. You saw it – we had him caged in and then boom, he hits it. That is how good he is. No matter how well you are playing you never feel like you got it because they had a really dangerous player.”
On playing multiple quarterbacks: “If [having one quarterback emerge] happens that will be great. I have no idea without looking at the tape. I need to talk to [Frank] Cignetti and evaluate from there. The one thing you can see from Gary [Nova] is that he is not overwhelmed by anything. Chas [Dodd] is the same way so we have two cool customers.”
On who is starting at quarterback next week: “We have to look at the tape. I have no idea. Whatever gives us the best chance to win against Navy that’s what we will do. I may make that announcement early or make it again at the end of the week. Again, I have no idea without looking at the tape, especially when you are calling defenses against a [fast] tempo. I probably missed half a dozen plays.”
On starting Caleb Ruch at center: “We just felt like with Caleb [Ruch] with his experience – he’s a grown man who has played a lot of football. Center is such an important position with communication. As last week, there were a bunch of changes – this week was the same. I think Caleb brings a little bit of a steadying force, but as you saw with the change at left tackle, the competition will continue. I am really happy with Antwan – a guy that got demoted a couple weeks ago and fights back. That’s what the kids understand; everything is based on your performance. If you perform better you are going to get that opportunity. I think that is good and that is healthy. Competition is good as long as the guys are unselfish and at the end of the day it is about us, the team and the family. That is not easy to do in this day and age. I really like how they are approaching it day by day.”