PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova isn’t making any excuses for his struggles in the second half of last season.
Nova admittedly played poorly as the Scarlet Knights (9-4) lost four of their final six games.
That’s ancient history. There’s a new Gary Nova ready to enter his junior year. He’s 15 pounds lighter. He seemingly knows what he wants and he says he won’t be hesitant to let new offensive coordinator Ron Prince know when there is something in the game plan he doesn’t like.
“I’m not going out there to prove all you guys wrong or prove the world wrong or something like that,” Nova said Monday. “I’m just going out there to win the game for my team and be a leader for my team. That’s it.”
But that’s Nova.
He’s excited and feels very good about Rutgers’ chances as it plays the 2013 season in the American Athletic Conference before joining the Big Ten Conference in 2014.
Nova and an outstanding defense created a lot of excitement last season, as the Scarlet Knights won their first seven games and checked in at No. 18 in the polls. The start included a 25-of-35 performance against Arkansas for 397 yards and five touchdowns.
But the slump started against Kent State at home. Nova threw six interceptions in a 35-23 setback, and was never the same. After throwing 15 touchdowns and three interceptions in the undefeated start, Nova had seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions in the final six games.
After the season ended, Nova spent a ton of time watching film.
“You step back and watch yourself and realize: ‘I can’t believe I did this or why did I stop doing that,'” Nova said. “You just evaluate yourself. I know what I have to do and I have to go out there and do it on Saturday.”
To do that, Nova decided he needed to get in better shape. He lost the weight, looked more mobile in spring workouts, and also worked to strengthen his arm.
And one of those games he watched on film? Well, the Arkansas game, of course — just to feel good about himself.
“The way I played, that is no excuse,” Nova said. “I have to play better and I understand that, and I will play better.”
Despite the struggles, Rutgers was in position to win the Big East title outright. But a three-game losing streak — one that saw the team score 33 points — dampened a proud season.
Rutgers finished the season with the offense ranked 104th out of 120 programs. The season ended with Nova completing 17 passes for 129 yards in a 13-10 overtime loss to Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Nova, who finished 221 of 388 for 2,695 yards in his first full season as the starter, believes things will turn around this season.
“The sky is the limit,” he said. “You can sit here and say all of the good things that we have, but you really need to put it on film. The past few years we had a lot of talent on offense — obviously changing offensive coordinators the past three years hasn’t helped — but I think as an offense now we’re more about not saying it but just putting it on film, putting it up there on the scoreboard, putting up points and letting that be what everyone knows us for.”
While the offense has lost 1,000-yard rusher Jawan Jamison to the NFL, the line returns most of its members. And the receiving corps — led by the explosive Brandon Coleman, who has NFL written all over him — is strong.
“We’re not guys that are going to go out there and say we’re going to be great,” Nova said. “We’re guys that are going to go out there and do it.”
If Nova takes the next step, Rutgers will —at the least — be more consistent this season.
“Playing this game and getting to know someone on and off the field, to see where his mindset is right now, is phenomenal,” linebacker Jamal Merrell said. ” I respect him as a person and a quarterback. He always wants to work.
“His desire to get better is always burning.”
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