Rutgers University has some healing to do with respect to its current athletic programs, but that does not extend to the football team, where Kyle Flood's program is coming off a 9-4 season, sending multiple players to the NFL each year and getting ready to join the Big Ten.
The 2013 Rutgers spring game posed a chance for new talent to stake its claim toward starting jobs next season. It also gave the team a chance to support the Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund and let some younger fans play on the field, capping a positive end to Rutgers' 2013 spring football slate (h/t NJ.com)
Team Scarlet jumped out early and never looked back, earning a 45-0 win over Team White.
It was a beautiful day for football in New Jersey on Saturday, as you can see by this tweet from the Scarlet Knight on Twitter—there wasn't a better place to catch a football game on Saturday in Jersey than High Point Solutions Stadium:
On a weekend in which former defensive standouts Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Khaseem Greene all are headed for the NFL after the 2013 draft, the big storyline heading into the summer months is still the development of returning starting quarterback Gary Nova and the Scarlet Knights offense.
Nova, in charge of the Scarlet offense on Saturday, got the scoring started for the dark team, tossing a touchdown pass to Quron Pratt that was the first six of 31 Scarlet points in the first half.
The running game was really clicking in the first half, too, led by standout running back Savon Huggins' bruising touchdown run to increase the lead as halftime approached. Other highlights from the first half included redshirt freshman Ian Thomas picking up a fumble for a touchdown and a field goal after a Chas Dodd drive stalled and Miles Shuler dropped an easy touchdown pass in the back of the end zone (h/t Greg Johnson):
Although the Scarlet team was playing mostly against second- and third-teamers on both sides of the ball, it made sure it took care of business by taking a 31-0 halftime lead.
The White team couldn't get anything going for most of the afternoon and will have to settle for a tough loss and some clear motivation to get better and push for starting jobs as the fall season commences later this year.
Nova came out and increased the lead to 38 points with a touchdown after the second half began, and Dodd added another to tight end Tyler Kroft to complete the scoring and give the Scarlet team the easy victory on Saturday afternoon.
The game ended somewhat interestingly, as Rutgers invited middle-schoolers affected by Hurricane Sandy to participate in some flag football over the final five minutes of the running clock. Rutgers tied the score at 45 on the board and let the two young teams duke it out on a college field for the first time in their lives, but we'll take the result from the first portion of the day for the use of this recap.
Different players from the Rutgers roster helped call plays for each of the flag teams, and it was a perfect way to end a great day of Rutgers football.
As a new era for both the athletic program and the football team begins, Rutgers was able to mix both fun and football in a way that fans and this team won't soon forget. Let's take a look at some grades for key players on both sides of the ball from this game below.
QB Gary Nova: B-
Concerns about Nova's ability to improve his accuracy and overall ability to play better against good competition are certainly there, and we aren't going to get a gauge on those concerns against Rutgers' second-teamers.
However, Nova showed again on Saturday that he has the talent and arm to improve upon his 57-percent completion percent from the 2012 season. He started strong with a touchdown pass on the opening drive and did nothing to convince coach Flood he's not the long-term man for the job.
Nova also had a minor hiccup to his game as the clock wound down the fourth quarter, lofting a wobbly pass that was intercepted and ended his spring on a somewhat sour note.
Gary Johnson had this look at his halftime stats:
There's a quite buzz around Nova's abilities in New Brunswick, and he'll be expected to both improve his game and help carry this team over into the new season with the loss of key players on both sides of the ball. We'll see if he's up to the challenge when the 2013 season begins against Fresno State.
RB Savon Huggins: B+
With former Scarlet Knight and recent NFL champion Ray Rice in attendance, Huggins did his best to capture the running-back job outright on Saturday.
HIs touchdown run in the first half was a big part of that effort, and he looked the part of a back ready to take on more responsibility during the spring game.
Coach Flood also mentioned during the halftime interview that he thought Michael Burton, listed as a fullback on the official roster, has earned a chance to run the ball more in what could turn out to be a committee approach to replacing the departed Jawan Jamison in the backfield.
If Rutgers wants to capitalize on its 9-4 campaign in 2012 without taking a step back, finding a running back that can handle the load will be key. Huggins, Paul James and a class of recruits will apparently all be in the mix when fall football starts at Rutgers, a fact noted by ESPN's Andrea Adelson last month.
LB Steve Longa: A-
Longa is one of the guys looking to help replace the production lost when Greene and Steve Beauharnais both left the middle of the defense this offseason, and he got off to a good start on Saturday.
He was part of a Scarlet defense that did not allow a point to the White team and ended up with a late interception to stake his claim to one of the starting LB jobs as a sophomore next season.
Matt Sugam reported earlier this month that Longa was hoping to prove he's worthy of starter time, and he did just that on Saturday:
Rutgers has a relatively light schedule in the Big East during its final year with the conference, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be in preseason conversation for a conference crown.
Getting there will start with Nova, but could hinge on players like Longa stepping up to fill the void left by departing seniors in 2013. Rutgers fans have a lot to be excited about next season, and the young players on display on Saturday were just a start.
You can follow Ethan Grant on Twitter: Follow @DowntownEG