By Matt Sugam
PISCATAWAY – Six minutes into the third quarter, Rutgers appeared to be cruising to the school’s first BCS bowl bid. D.C. Jefferson had just caught a 26-yard pass from J.T. Tartacoff for a touchdown on the fake field goal, ballooning Rutgers lead to 20-3.
Except there was a yellow hanky laying near the 25-yard line.
Fifth-year senior lineman Devon Watkis was flagged for being an ineligible receiver down field. The touchdown was called back, and Rutgers punted.
“The critical, critical kind of swinging point in the game,” head coach Kyle Flood said.
Following the punt Louisville would have a methodical 90-yard drive 7:46 for a touchdown to cut Rutgers lead to four. On the ensuing kickoff Jeremy Deering fumbled. On the very next play, Teddy Bridgewater hit DeVante Parker in the back left corner of the endzone for the 20-yard touchdown.
And so, in just 16 seconds of game time, things had completely turned in the Cardinals favor.
“It’s kind of a 21‑point swing in a very short amount of time, and we weren’t ever able to really swing the momentum back, and that’s my job,” Flood said. “So I take responsibility for that. I just didn’t seem to be able to find the way to swing the momentum back in our favor.”
Which leaves Rutgers thinking what might have been.
What if Watkis wasn’t called for the penalty? What if the defense could have held Louisville to a field goal on one of those drives? What if they had just won last week at Pitt to win the Big East outright and secure a trip to the BCS?
“We had a lot of opportunities,” Steve Beauharnais. “We had an opportunity last week. There was many opportunities to go to the BCS bid.”
But Rutgers couldn’t capitalize on any of them. Even when it seemed all the stars were finally aligning for the Scarlet Knights for the first time in 143 years.
Louisville was reeling, coming off two straight losses. Their all-conference quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was banged up with a bum ankle and fractured wrist. They were playing at home.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t do well enough,” Flood said. “That’s the reality of today.”
And the reality of Rutgers football. An inability to get over the hump and make it to that elusive BCS bowl.
Sure, they’ve only really been in legitimate contention for one since 2006. But this was their best opportunity and they squandered it. And they might not get many more in the near future.
Next year is in all likelihood their final year in the Big East, and they’ll have to win their division – which included Bridgewater and Louisville – and then the Big East title game to get there. Not to mention Rutgers loses so many pieces of their veteran defense that has carried them all year.
Then they’ll head to the Big Ten, where they’ll probably be in the same division as Urben Meyer and Ohio State. So they’ll have to get by Urb just to play in the conference title game.
“There comes a point where you if want to get there [to the BCS],” Scott Vallone said. “We got to go out and do it.”
The question is, when?