The Gary Nova Era is finally over at Rutgers, and some Scarlet Knights supporters might be treating that news with celebration.
Nova earned plenty of detractors during his tenure in Piscataway, mostly for his penchant for turning the ball over, which he undoubtedly did quite often. And no performance seared that idea into people’s heads more than his five-interception game against Penn State last season, Rutgers’ first game as a member of the Big Ten.
But the truth is, replacing Nova won’t be as easy as it might seem.
Rutgers is in the middle of a quarterback competition right now — one that could end at any moment — with Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig battling to be the next quarterback after Nova held that position for the majority of his four seasons as a Knight.
Nova did throw a lot of interceptions, 51 in four years to be precise. But the truth is that last season, he was one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. He ranked third in the league in passing yardage with 2,851 yards, coming in just behind Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg, two QBs projected to go in the first round of next year’s NFL Draft. Only Cook and J.T. Barrett threw more touchdowns than Nova’s 22 scoring tosses.
Laviano and Rettig are both sophomores with little-to-no experience. Transitioning from a four-year starter to a first-time starter and doing it with a brand-new offensive coordinator in Ben McDaniels is going to be a challenge.
“The difference between Gary as a sophomore and these two is Gary played as a freshman. So Gary actually had some game experience when he came back his sophomore year when I became the head coach. What I see from Hayden and what I see from Chris as we got further in the week was their ability to see things and get us into good plays,” head coach Kyle Flood said earlier this month during the team’s media day. “Those are big milestones in a quarterback's progression, and I've seen both players do it throughout the week. And now you're really having an opportunity to make some explosive plays on offense when the quarterback recognizes something, puts you in a better play and now you've got a numbers advantage.”
Laviano played a little last season in relief of Nova, racking up 107 yards and throwing no touchdown passes and one interception in five appearances. Rettig, meanwhile, transferred in from LSU and sat out last season. He’s yet to throw a collegiate pass.
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So inexperience reigns. Helping that out will be an established run game as well as one of the conference’s top pass catchers in Leonte Carroo. The wide receiver ranked second in the Big Ten in receiving yardage last season and caught 10 touchdown passes.
But even with weapons like Carroo and running back Paul James, whoever the new quarterback is will be thrown into the fire. That’s a lot to ask in the Big Ten East. The Knights’ third game of the season comes against Penn State, which had one of the best defenses in the country last season. Two games after that, it’s College Football Playoff contender Michigan State. Two games after that it’s defending national champion Ohio State. Then Wisconsin and Michigan, two more of the nation’s top 10 defenses from a season ago.
Good luck, guys.
“I've thrown a lot at the quarterbacks on this first week of training camp, and I want to see what sticks and how much we can handle,” McDaniels said.
“The reality is we are going to ask a lot of the players in this offense in this system. So to hide that reality and push that off, is really not going to do us any good. They need to understand how to approach the offense, how to study their role in the offense, and understand that there's going to be a lot asked of them. So I think throwing a lot at them early creates a perspective that this is — ‘I have to handle all of this and there's more coming.’ And ultimately I think that's good for us.”