By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – Scott Vallone answered the first question posed to him with a question.
“How many times does history have to repeat itself?” Rutgers’ senior nose tackle inquired.
In other words, how many times do they have to have those head scratching losses? How many times do they have to lose a game that they should have easily won?
Apparently at least one more time for Rutgers, who saw their dream season quickly become a nightmare against Kent State. The Scarlet Knights (7-1, 4-0 Big East) were not only beaten by the Golden Flashes (7-1, 4-0 MAC), but beaten handily in the 35-23 loss.
The offense turned the ball over seven times, six of which were on the right arm of Gary Nova.
“Just trying to make too many plays,” Nova said. “Today – I don’t know why – but I didn’t do what I was coached to do, and it cost us the game.”
However, the defense didn’t do much to help out their struggling quarterback. The unit that has been dominant in every game – aside from the one at Arkansas - was exposed. Ranked No. 3 in the country heading into the game against the run, allowing just 69 yards per game, they gave up 224 yards on the ground.
Kent State grounded and pounded with an opportunistic defense. Sounds like a familiar style of football. Like Rutgers’ style of football.
“We believe that we’re the toughest team [every game],” middle linebacker Steve Beauharnais said. “And they were definitely tougher today up front.”
Which translated into gaping holes for Kent State’s running backs to run through before breaking countless open field tackles.
Still, even after a heartbreaking loss that left the No. 15 team in the country shell-shocked, all is not lost.
“One [goal] is gone. That’s the reality for most teams in the country. With the exception of maybe three, four, five teams in the country, to play for a national championship, you have to be undefeated,” Flood said. “That’s the reality of the system we’re in right now.”
The other reality of the BCS system is that Rutgers — or any team from the Big East (sorry Louisville) — is not playing for the national title, even at 12-0. So with an unblemished conference record, they shouldn’t let this loss take the wind out of their sails. Rutgers can still cruise their way into uncharted territory with a trip down to South Beach for the Orange Bowl after winning that elusive Big East Championship.
But first they need to get over this loss. The last thing this team can do is let one loss turn into two after the bye week. At that point, the once promising season would be in a tailspin.
“We can’t harp on this one. We could lose focus if we allow this one get to us too much,” Khaseem Greene said. “Like I said, some of our goals are still attainable.”
Meaning a Big East Championship. Which — aside from an undefeated season and the ability to argue they should play for the national championship — always was the most feasible goal this season.
And even the player who questioned history repeating itself knows he can’t ponder on that for too long.
“There’s a lot of season left,” Vallone said. “The conference, the BCS bid still up for grabs and thats the things that we’re fighting for. We still got a lot to play for.”
Like controlling their own destiny for a Big East Championship game against Louisville on a Thursday night to end the season. So they can still break new ground at Rutgers and make history.
And in reality, isn’t that what this season has been about?