Aug. 28, 2014 • Seattle, Wash. • CenturyLink Field • Attendance: 30,927
By Tom Luicci
SEATTLE (Aug. 28, 2014) - After spending the first 59 minutes trying to slow down Washington State’s pass-happy offense with only moderate success, Rutgers’ defense saved its best for last.
With the Scarlet Knights clinging to a three-point lead, the defense held firm against quarterback Connor Halliday on his final drive tonight, enabling Rutgers to emerge with a 41-38 victory over Washington State at CenturyLink Field in the season opener.
Halliday finished 40-of-56 for 532 yards and five touchdowns but could not solve the Scarlet Knights’ defense when it mattered most.
Rutgers was able to take that 41-38 lead in a back-and-forth second half just when things looked bleak. Trailing 38-34 after Halliday’s five-yard touchdown pass to Rickey Galvin with 8:13 to play, the Scarlet Knights were forced to punt.
But Johnathan Aiken’s hit on returner River Cracraft forced a fumble that teammate Anthony Cioffi recovered at midfield. From there, the Scarlet Knights marched the rest of the way for the eventual game-winning touchdown, getting it when Paul James scored from three-yards out with 3:24 to play, his third rushing touchdown of the game.
James rushed for 173 yards on 29 carries, while Gary Nova passed for 281 yards and two scores. Wide receiver Leonte Carroo caught six passes for 151 yards and a touchdown as Rutgers beat a Pac-12 school for the first time in its history.
Nova’s second touchdown pass of the game, and John Tsimis’ first of his career, had given Rutgers the lead back at 34-31 with 10:50 to play after those two hooked up on a 29-yard scoring play.
Prior to that, Washington State had taken its first lead of the game at 24-21 on its opening possession of the second half as Halliday continued his hot hand. Rutgers would force a 24-24 tie on Kyle Federico’s 36-yard field goal on the very next series before Halliday picked up where he left off.
This time he finished a drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass – his fourth of the game -- to Isiah Myers to get Washington State back on top at 31-24.
But Rutgers wasn’t finished.
Federico, who has made 10 of his last 12 field goals, connected on a 25-yard and to make it 31-27 and Nova then capitalized on a defensive stop. He did that by engineering a 73-yard drive that ended with the touchdown pass to Tsimis, giving the Scarlet Knights the lead back a 34-31 in the wild passing affair.
Rutgers’ ability to make just enough plays – thanks in large part to James and a defense that did its best to hold firm in the onslaught of Washington State’s passing game – was the difference as the Scarlet Knights claimed a 21-17 halftime lead.
James tore through the Cougars’ defense in the first two quarters, rushing for 110 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. The highlight was a 56-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter that pushed the Scarlet Knights’ lead to 21-10.
Though Rutgers led from the very first play from scrimmage – literally – Washington State’s relentless passing attack kept the Pac-12 team always within arm’s length through the first two quarters. Cougars’ quarterback Connor Halliday finish the first half 20-of-29 for 289 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception.
But he was always playing catchup early, starting with Nova’s 78-yard touchdown strike to Carroo on Rutgers’ first play.
Halliday had his share of big plays in the first half, but the Scarlet Knights’ defense had theirs as well, most notably on a fourth and two play midway from the Rutgers six yardline through the first quarter.
Halliday completed a crossing pass to Vince Mayle, who was stopped short of the first down by safety Johnathan Aiken. That preserved Rutgers’ 7-0 lead.
But the offenses and the offensive stars were just getting warmed up.
Rutgers built a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter thanks to a 12-play, 75-yard drive capped by James’ one-yard touchdown run.
Halliday answered with a four-yard touchdown pass to Isiah Myers that finished off an 80-yard drive, making it 14-10.
That’s when Rutgers responded once more, with James breaking loose for that 56-yard touchdown run to push the Scarlet Knights’ advantage back to 21-10. Back came Halliday for more, though.
This time he moved the Cougars 72 yards in eight plays, connecting with Mayle for a 26-yard touchdown. Washington State was within 21-17 with 1:42 left before the half at that point. The Cougars had a chance to get even closer, but Eric Powell’s 50-yard field goal try on the final play of the first half glanced off the upright.
Nova, meanwhile, finished the half 5-for-10 for 107 yards with a touchdown pass and interception. And while Washington State managed gaudy passing numbers as usual, the Cougars rushed for just 18 yards on nine carries in the opening half.
- Rutgers defeated a school in the Pac-12 for the first time in school history. It was the fifth attempt.
- Rutgers won its season opener for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
o RU is 74-62-9 all-time in its first game of the season.
- Rutgers rushed the ball 43 times in the game. The team is now 18-3 in the last four seasons when attempting 35 or more rushes in a contest. The Scarlet Knights had 215 yards on the ground and improved to 37-9 since 2006 when going for over 150 in a game.
- The defense permitted six yards on the ground and is now 48-14 since 2000 when holding the opponent under 100 yards rushing and 24-3 when holding under 50.
o The six yards allowed was the least amount surrendered since Virginia Tech had three in the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl.
- Rutgers scored a touchdown on its opening offensive drive of the season for the first time since 2009 against Cincinnati.
- Last season in the opener at Fresno State, the Scarlet Knights returned a kickoff for a touchdown to start the game. In its first offensive series, RU converted a field goal versus the Bulldogs.
- Rutgers converted its only fourth-down attempt on offense. Last season RU was third in the nation with a 77.8 conversion rate (21-of-27).
- As a head coach Kyle Flood is now 10-2 when leading at the half, 8-1 in games played in August or September, 6-1 when scoring over 30 points, 13-4 when having more rushing yards than the opponent and 5-3 in games decided by seven points or less.
- Rutgers’ second touchdown of the game came on a 6:31 drive. The Scarlet Knights had one touchdown drive of more than six minutes last season (USF).
- In a balanced offense approach, Rutgers ran (215) and passed (281) for over 200 yards. That last happened in the 2013 game versus Houston.
- First career start (3): WR Janarion Grant, WR John Tsimis, NT Kenneth Kirksey
- Collegiate debut (8): H Mike Bimonte, DB Andre Hunt, LB T.J. Taylor, DL Julian Pinnix-Odrick, DL Kemoko Turay, TE Matt Flanagan, LS Alan Lucy, DB Dre Boggs
- Rutgers debut (3): WR Andrew Turzilli, P Joey Roth, P Tim Gleeson
- DB Justin Goodwin made his first career start on defense. The sophomore made two starts at running back last season.
- Rutgers started the offensive line of LT Keith Lumpkin, LG Kaleb Johnson, C Betim Bujari, RG Chris Mullerand RT Taj Alexander. The group now has now combined for 128 games played and 104 starts. In addition, RTJ.J. Denman, who entered with one career game played, saw action in the first half.
- LB Kevin Snyder leads the team with 40 career games played, while OL Kaleb Johnson has the most starts at 38.
- WR Leonte Carroo
o Carroo had a career-high 151 yards in the game, topping the 147 picked up last season against Temple. It was his third game in his career with more than 100 yards.
o He caught a 78-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the game. It was his 10th career score and second of longer than 60 yards. His first career catch last season at Fresno State was a 69-yard touchdown.
- QB Gary Nova
o Nova passed Ryan Hart (2002-05) for second in school history with 53 career passing touchdowns. He is six behind the record of 59 set by Mike Teel (2005-08).
o Rutgers is now 16-4 in his starts when he throws one or less interception.
o Nova now has 6,688 career passing yards, moving into fourth in school history.
o His 16 completions in the game moved him into fourth in the record books at 518.
- RB Paul James
o James ran for 173 in the game, his fifth career game with more than 100 yards rushing (tied for 11th-most in Rutgers history).
o His 56-yard touchdown was his fifth career run of more than 50 yards.
o James recorded multiple touchdowns in a game for the fourth time (Norfolk State, Eastern Michigan, USF). It was his third game with three scores.
- WR John Tsimis
o Tsimis made his first career start and scored a touchdown to put RU ahead at 34-31. The scoring grab was also a career-long reception at 29 yards. He also had a career-long rush of nine yards in the first half.
- DB Delon Stephenson
o Making the start at free safety, Stephenson led the defense with nine tackles (five solo). He also had one pass break-up.
- K Kyle Federico
o Federico made a 36-yard field goal in the third quarter and a 25-yarder in the fourth. The junior has made 10 of his last 12 field goal attempts (and last five) dating back to last season.
- DB Justin Goodwin
o Making his first appearance on defense, Goodwin secured an interception on first drive by Washington State.
- TE Matt Flanagan
o Flanagan picked up his first career reception on a fourth-down play. It was his first college game.
- WR Janarion Grant
o Grant made his first career start at wide receiver and made four receptions. He made a career-long 30-yard catch in the third quarter that helped setup a field goal.
- DE Kemoko Turay
o In his first collegiate action, Turay picked up two sacks, including one for a loss of nine that backed the Cougars up on their final series.
- DB Johnathan Aiken
o Aiken provided two of the most influential plays of the game. He recorded a forced fumble off a punt to give RU the ball back, eventually scoring the winning touchdown. He then picked up a pass break-up on fourth down to seal the game.