When Gary Nova won the first-string quarterback job in 2012, it surprised a number of Rutgers fans and alumni. As the third starting QB for the program in as many years, Nova struggled at the beginning of the season against the easiest part of the schedule. Despite three victories over sub-par opponents (Tulane, Howard and USF), his completion percentage was just 55.1, with four TDs and two interceptions.
But Nova appeared to arrive as a quarterback last season in game four against Arkansas, when his 71.4 passing percentage, 213.9 QB rating, 397 yards passing and five TDs seemed to affirm head coach Kyle Flood's vision that the young sophomore was the obvious choice as the team's leader.
However, it was the defense that carried the Scarlet Knights in weeks five and six, and other than a four-touchdown afternoon against struggling Temple, Nova's contributions to the team's success were minimal.
The tide turned completely in week eight against Kent State, when Nova threw six interceptions on the way to Rutgers' first loss of the season, 35-23. From there, the young QB's performance dropped, and for the rest of the season, Nova would either throw more (or at least as many) interceptions as touchdowns in each remaining game.
In the last three contests of the season, the young QB could not manage to complete 50 percent of his passes.
"Everybody has problems at the end of the season," Nova explained recently regarding his 2012 late-season slide (per Bobby Deren of ScarletNation.com). "Your arm gets tired and you throw a lot of balls in training camp and the whole first half of the season. But that's not any excuse to why my production dropped."
Through spring practice of 2013, Nova has maintained that he has matured (per Patti Sapone's article in The Star-Ledger), and it appears that Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood maintains that his junior signal caller is the starting quarterback,
The sentiment is one echoed by new Rutgers offensive coordinator Ron Prince. "I think Gary has done a real nice job preparing," remarked Prince (as quoted by Tom Luicci of The Star-Ledger). "I think he’s listened and has internalized not only the plays and the routes and the route progressions, but how we want to play the game."
By all accounts, Nova has had a good spring camp and has looked sharp in practice. The annual 2013 Scarlet-White spring game gave him the chance to showcase his development, and he responded by going 11-of-16 for 222 yards and three TDs. But while Flood has again anointed the junior signal caller as his starter, he reminded fans and players alike that there are others right behind Nova who are just waiting for their chance to shine.
In their final year as a member of the Big East, the Scarlet Knights are still seeking their first-ever solo finish atop the conference. With that goal in mind—as well as a their first-ever BCS bowl bid—coach Flood continues to believe that Nova is the new-and-improved man for the job.
“I was confident that he would take the next step going forward and I think he has, and now the most critical thing for Gary is where can he get to by the time we start training camp,” Flood explained following the game (per Mike Becker of The Daily Record). “He needs to come back to training camp a better athlete, and a better quarterback, and a better football player, and a better leader than he is today.”