Brandon Jones stepped in front of a Ryan Griffin pass to Wilson Van Hooser and returned the ball for a 14-yard touchdown to put the Scarlet Knights up by 11 points with less than 12 minutes left in the game, helping to pace Rutgers to a 24-12 road victory over the Tulane Green Wave in the season opener for both clubs.
Trailing 10-6 with the ball deep in their own end, Griffin locked onto his receiver as soon as he took the snap, telegraphing his intentions to the Rutgers defense, then threw the ball into the teeth of man-to-man coverage.
The pick-6 return by Jones seemed to break the spirit of the Green Wave, who had stayed close with the Scarlet Knights for most of the contest in a game marred by penalties and tentative play by both offenses.
After a scoreless first quarter, Rutgers finally posted the game's first points when running back Jawan Jamison ran left, then cut back to the right and scampered 46 yards for a touchdown. After freshman Kyle Federico's first extra point as Rutgers' kicker, the Scarlet Knights led 7-0.
On the next RU possession, Kyle Flood decided to go for it on 4th-and-3, only to see quarterback Gary Nova's pass intercepted and returned to the Rutgers 40-yard line. Tulane converted several third-down plays, including a 3rd-and-16 before the drive stalled and they settled for a field goal to make the score 7-3 with just 41 seconds left in the first half.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jeremy Deering returned the kick to the Tulane 45-yard line. Rutgers moved the ball to the Tulane 10 and had Kyle Federico kick a 27-yard field goal as time expired to take a 10-3 lead into the locker room.
Both teams struggled in the third quarter, but Tulane was able to sustain a 17-play drive and kick a field goal to tighten the score to 10-6 early in the fourth quarter. At that point, the Rutgers defense took control of the game with the Brandon Jones' first interception of the season.
“Somebody had to step up and make a play," said Jones [as reported by Tom Luicci of The Star-Ledger on NJ.com] about his game-changing play, "and I was happy I was able to do it.”
The turnover appeared to infuse enthusiasm into the Rutgers offense, as on their next possession quarterback Gary Nova (11-for-20, 158 yards) hit Brandon Coleman with a 43-yard touchdown pass to finally give the Scarlet Knights some breathing room at 24-6.
But Tulane did not quit, and on their next possession, Griffin hit Robert Kelly for a touchdown with 5:07 remaining to draw the game closer at 24-12 when the extra point was blocked.
Rutgers had only to run down the clock and make one more defensive stand, then took possession of the ball with 2:06 to play. With that, Kyle Flood's first game as Rutgers head coach ended with his team escaping New Orleans with a 24-12 victory before a crowd of 26,059.
Defense and special teams—traditionally Rutgers’ strengths—were equal to the task in the game, and were aided by 11 Tulane penalties, which put Tulane into passing situations.
“[W]e killed ourselves with penalties," said Green Wave quarterback Ryan Griffin [as reported by Tammy Nunez of The Times-Picayune on NOLA.com] after the game. "We didn't get a chance to get the run game going."
Tulane star running back Orleans Darkwa missed the game due to an ankle sprain, while Jawan Jamison ran for 112 yards on 18 carries and caught and two passes for 41 yards. Jamison was the highlight player of an otherwise mediocre Rutgers offensive performance.
Rutgers finished the game a dismal 4-for-13 on third downs, and had nine penalties for 72 yards. The offense could amass only 16 first downs in the game on a night that saw no RU receiver catch more than three passes.