His career has been like a 50-piece puzzle set that is missing a piece. It’s parallel to the overused movie quote, “Life’s like a box of chocolates,” because, well, you never know what you’re going to get. It struggles with identity, much like Shakespeare’s Hamlet with his impulsiveness and indecision.
You’re doing one of two things when watching Nova play: closing your eyes in utter disgust and shock, or tilting your head in admiration while partaking in multiple shoulder shrugs with confound approval.
Since taking the one-hour trip from Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey, NJ to join Rutgers in 2011, Nova has made 40 starts (25-15 record), appearing in 45 total games.
If you have followed Rutgers over the last few years, then you know of Nova’s remarkable inconsistencies. But for those of you that haven’t, I’m going to break it down with some numbers that make you want to bang your head on your desk. (Note: University Avenue is not responsible for any concussions caused by the viewing of this column.)
Ok, here we go.
Nova has seven games in which he has thrown four touchdowns or more; he also has five games where he’s thrown three or more interceptions, including a four-, five-, and six-interception performance.
He has 15 games with 250-plus passing yards and nine with less than 150. He’s completed less than 50 percent of his attempts 13 different times (min. 15 passes), but has 10 games with a completion rate of 65 percent or more.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Elmwood Park native has compiled 19 multi-touchdown performances, but pairs it with 12 multi-interception games. You can add in 13 games finishing with less than a 30.0 Total QBR, and 11 with a rating of 70.0-plus.
He received praise as a true freshman, tossing 11 touchdowns while aiding the Scarlet Knights to a 9-4 record and their fifth straight bowl win.
After seeing what Nova was capable of as a freshman, there were expectations for him to take a huge step forward in development during as a sophomore—and to an extent, he did. Nova led Rutgers to a 7-0 start, including a win over Arkansas, as he amplified his “game management” skills with a 3-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. However, he followed it up by throwing 13 interceptions in the final six games, as his team collapsed to lose four of six.
Like the previous year, both Nova and the Scarlet Knights got off to a hot start to the 2013 season, starting 4-1 with another impressive win over Arkansas and an exciting 52-51 overtime loss to a very good Derek Carr-led Fresno State team. And like 2012, he fell apart midseason—completing just 50.9 percent of his passes with 10 interceptions with four losses from Oct. 10 to Nov. 21—this time resulting in his benching, and thus was thought to be the end of Nova’s career in Piscataway Township.
But it wasn’t.
“Last year, I was (imitating) South Florida’s quarterback,” Nova said, according to myCentralJersey.com. “Last year we did the (second-team) offense was the scout team for the defense so it wasn’t true scout team—but I count it as scout team. …It was pretty tough last year and I’m just grateful that I’m in the position I am right now.”
Donning the second-most recognized scarlet uniforms after moving to the Big Ten Conference this offseason, Nova not only recaptured his starting spot, but has recorded his best season to date while taking Rutgers back yet another bowl game.
There have been a few bumps along the way, but winning seven games in a year where many—including myself—expected the Scarlet Knights to lay an egg in their transition from the American Athletic Conference is an undervalued achievement—and it starts and ends with Nova.
In 2014, Nova has flaunted his abilities that were once masked by an inflated interception rate. Take away his one flop against Penn State where he threw five picks—the Nittany Lions have had a knack for making opposing QBs look terrible this season—and Nova has 20 passing touchdowns with a career-low seven INTs.
And leading Rutgers to a bowl game in the program’s first season in the Big Ten is an excellent opportunity to hammer an exclamation point on one of the better comebacks we’ve seen in awhile—especially after being tabbed as the conference’s worst quarterback during the preseason. It also gives him a chance to alleviate some of the
headaches migraines he’s given fans over the course of the last four years that gave him that title.
“Everything this season has kind of been lining itself up,” Nova said, “and I’m just trying to finish strong.”
So what does Nova need to do to punch in Rutgers’ eighth win of the season against North Carolina (6-6, 4-4 ACC) in the Quick Lane Bowl December 26? It’s quite simple, actually.
The Scarlet Knights are 14-5 (9-1 over last two years) when Nova throws for two touchdowns or more, and they’re 2-10 when he tosses multiple interceptions. Easy enough, right? I’d like to think so.
UNC has had one heck of a time on defense this season, allowing 38.9 points per game (119th in the FBS)—giving up 40-plus points to five different opponents—rank No. 115 in team passing efficiency defense (150.08), and are No. 46 in interceptions gained (12).
“Obviously we wanted to be undefeated, but 8-5 is a solid season, especially in this conference with the great teams, great players, so it would be a great way to end the season,” Nova said.
Possibly the most important statistic to know heading into Friday’s game: North Carolina is the 119th-ranked team in total defense, and Rutgers is 6-0 (minus FCS Howard) against opponents ranked 50th or lower in the category. Nova is 85-of-131 (64.9 percent) with 1,287 yards, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions vs. teams like the Tar Heels in 2014.
We might never get to fully understand Gary Nova and why he is what he is, but man, there will be a small emptiness in America’s heart when he’s not on the Rutgers roster next season.