SYRACUSE, NY - The Rutgers offense was bumbling. There were fumbles and interceptions and missed field goals. The rushing game was invisible, and the passing game was spotty at best.
Want more? Thoughtless penalties cost points. The starting quarterback was benched.
The Scarlet Knights trailed on the road for over four hours.
But, there was a “but.”
RU’s defense was nothing short of spectacular and wound up winning Saturday’s game, 19-16, over Syracuse in double overtime.
“We’ve all done better jobs coaching, we’ve all done better jobs playing, it wasn’t a very pretty game,” said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. “But, the one thing we did was we fought.”
Rutgers (3-1) trailed 13-6 with 2:09 left in regulation. It would have been a 14-6 deficit if the Knights’ Logan Ryan hadn’t blocked a Syracuse extra point in the third quarter.
A three-yard touchdown pass from backup QB Gary Nova to Mohamed Sanu, and the conversion kick by San San Te tied the score, but there was still plenty of last-minute drama to come.
First, Syracuse (3-2) drove to the Rutgers 37-yard line, but a fourth-down pass was intercepted by RU linebacker Steve Beauharnas, who returned it to the Syracuse 34.
With 11 seconds remaining, Te missed a 44-yard field goal -- his third miss of the day.
In overtime, Rutgers and Syracuse both settled for first-possession field goals, then Rutgers took its first lead of the day on a Te 47-yarder in the second OT. Syracuse would get last licks, but the Rutgers lineman Edmond Laryea forced a fumble that was recovered by Ryan to give RU the victory.
After causing five Orange turnovers and coming up big every time the RU offense sputtered, it seemed only right that the defensive unit was out on the field to celebrate.
“On a day like today, it’s probably fitting,” Schiano said. “I’ve never seen a performance like that by a defense. When you think about all the short fields they were on, when you intercept three and you get two fumbles and you block two kicks, that’s an unbelievable day.”
The term “unbelievable” might also be used for the Rutgers offense, but not in any flattering way.
The Scarlet Knights managed just five rushing yards all day. Starting quarterback Chas Dodd wasn’t so hot, either, getting benched early in the second half and replaced by true freshman Gary Nova, a garduate of Don Bosco Prep.
“I thought Chas was a little out of sync today for whatever reason,” Schiano said. We just decided let’s give Gary a chance. Chas just didn’t look like himself.”
Trailing 13-3, Nova was less than spectacular, but was sure and steady and that was impressive to Schiano in the noisy Carrier Dome.
Late in the third quarter, after being shut down time after time by the Rutgers defense, Syracuse seemed to poise to open a comfortable lead with a first down at the Rutgers five-yard line.
But, once again, RU’s super-defrense came to the rescue as safety David Rowe intercepted a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone.
And, that was just one of the big-play moments of the big-play day, which also included:
-- On the very first play of the game, Syracuse fumbled the ball and handed it to Rutgers at the Syracuse 31-yard line.
-- On Rutgers second play from there, running back Jawan Jamison was crushed and fumbled just as he was taking a handoff, and Rashard Anderson of Syracuse ran the ball back over 70 yards for an instant Orange lead just 42 seconds into the first quarter.
-- In the second quarter, a high snap to Dodd resulted in a Rutgers fumble. But, on the first play by Syracuse, Rutgers defensive end Justin Francis got the ball right back with an interception.
-- In the fourth quarter, RU blocked a Syracuse field goal and Marcus Cooper ran it 60 yards for an apparent touchdown, but the play was called back and the points taken off the board because of a personal foul that occurred more than 20 yards behind the action.
It was that kind of day from start to finish, and, incredibly, it was the third OT game already this year for Syracuse. No sustained drives by either side, just one turnover after another.
But, Schiano and crew were happy to take it and get out of town with the great sounding mark of 3-1 and a home game against Pittsburgh up next.