Power Ranking Gary Nova’s Five Interceptions

Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova started his 2014 season with six touchdowns and only one interception in the first two games of the season — both Rutgers wins. This led some people (mainly from New Jersey) to predict that the senior would have his coming-out party in primetime against Penn State, leading Rutgers to a win in their first-ever B1G Ten game.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, Nova threw a robust FIVE interceptions (to an equally robust zero touchdowns, though in all fairness he did score the team’s only touchdown of the game on a 14 yard run) and pretty much single-handedly kept Penn State in the game despite a lackluster (to say the least) performance from the Nittany Lion offense for most of the night. Being as we are both Penn State football and Rutgers schadenfreude enthusiasts here at Onward State, I decided to power rank Gary Nova’s five interceptions from Saturday’s 13-10 win.

5) Trevor Williams’ interception with 6:36 left in the 1st quarter

This was the first interception of the night, but it was far from the best. It was a nice play by Williams on 2nd and 10 to end a potential Rutgers scoring threat, as they were at the Penn State 38 and driving for the first score of the game. This got bumped down a bit because the offense promptly went 3-and-out on the ensuing drive. This was my 2nd-favorite Gary Nova interception of the first quarter, as well as my 2nd-favorite Trevor Williams interception of the game.

4) Adrian Amos’ interception with 4:33 left in the 1st quarter

This one got bumped just above Williams’ interception due to a few factors. Firstly, it was on the first play of the drive IMMEDIATELY following the previous Rutgers drive that ended with the Williams interception. Yes, Nova threw back-to-back interceptions on back-to-back plays. Secondly, it put Penn State in a much better spot (at the Rutgers 29 yard line) than Williams’ interception did. Of course, this was all rendered largely irrelevant when the Nittany Lion offense turned a 1st-and-10 at the Rutgers 13 yard line into a 34 yard field goal attempt from Sam Ficken, which was then promptly blocked.

3) Brandon Bell’s interception with 9:02 left in the 4th quarter

This was hilarious for a number of reasons. Nova drops back and tosses the ball right into Bell’s chest. Penn State didn’t do anything particularly exotic on defense. Instead, Nova seemingly decided to throw to wide receiver Leonte Carroo (who led Rutgers in both catches and receiving yards) before the play no matter what, ignoring a wide open receiver in the flat in the process. Great job by Bell to bait Nova into that throw, as you can see Bell act as if he’s going to rush the passer before dropping back into coverage at the snap, drifting towards the flat just enough for Nova to decide his WR wasn’t open (he was) before breaking on the throw to Carroo and intercepting it. This was also another Nova interception on the 1st play of a drive, which is pretty great stuff. Honestly, this should have ranked 1st or 2nd (it gave Penn State the ball at the Rutgers’ 47 with a chance to take the lead in the 4th quarter), but the fact that the ensuing drive resulted in Christian Hackenberg’s 5 yard pooch punt (which was as ill-conceived as it was poorly executed) bumped it down a spot for me. However, Nova’s “squat/finger lick while in shock and disbelief that he just threw another interception” combination was easily my favorite post-interception reaction of the night.

2) Trevor Williams’ interception with 9:05 left in the 3rd quarter

Let’s play a little Gary Nova RPG. Your defense just picked off Hackenberg in your own territory to end the first real Penn State scoring threat since the blocked field goal in the 1st quarter. You have a 1st and 10 on your own 38 yard line, up 10-0 in the 3rd quarter. What do you do in this situation? If you answered “Not throw the ball up for grabs into double coverage deep down the field,” congrats! You have better decision-making skills than Gary Nova. Seriously, watch the interception again. Nova fakes the handoff to Paul James and drops back to find a clean pocket. All the time in the world.

This is the moment that separates a good quarterback (Christian Hackenberg) from one who is not good (Gary Nova). Nova has a clean pocket and time to scan the field and make a good decision. I’m assuming the receiver he targets deep on the play (Leonte Carroo again) is his primary read, because he ignores two (2!!) open checkdowns in front of him (again, they’re up 10-0 and it’s 1st and 10) and heaves up what can generously be described as an arm punt directly into heavy traffic. Ryan Keiser is in a perfect trail position on Carroo in case of an underthrown ball because he knows he has help over the top, and said help arrives in full force moments later as Williams easily rises up in front of Carroo and snares the ill-advised pass for his second interception of the night. Penn State proceeded to get themselves on the scoreboard with a 32 yard Ficken FG on the drive immediately following the interception, which was the finishing touch needed to move it up to No. 2 on the night for me.

1) Ryan Keiser’s interception with 0:48 left in the 4th quarter

You can’t blame Nova too much for this one. It’s 4th-and-12 from his own 29 yard line, he’s out of timeouts, and he’s under duress from Deion Barnes and co. almost immediately after the snap. He steps up to avoid pressure, but the pocket is rapidly collapsing in front of him. The collapsing pocket prevents him from stepping into his throw, and amid chaos all around him Nova seemingly says “Fuck it, we’ll do it live,” heaves it up to a seemingly (maybe? Potentially?) open receiver down the left sideline. Unfortunately for Nova and Rutgers, his receiver wasn’t actually open, and the combination of the pocket caving in around him as well as Nova’s generally bad quarterbacking abilities result in him hanging his throw up in the air, with plenty of loft and not anywhere near enough velocity. Ryan Keiser is playing deep safety and easily undercuts the WR to make the game-clinching interception, making sure to keep himself in bounds. The only thing I would change about this interception? Nova’s reaction after it. He just walks toward the sideline, allowing himself only a split-second downward glance. I wanted something more, I don’t know, representative of the soul-crushing feeling that throwing your 5th interception of your team’s first game in a new power conference at home to secure a loss in which your team managed to steal defeat from the jaws of victory must bring. That’s just me though.

Some Fun Gary Nova Interception Facts:

  • Gary Nova threw 3 of his 5 interceptions on the first play of a new drive, including the first play following Christian Hackenberg’s only interception of the night.
  • 4 of Nova’s 5 interceptions came on 1st or 2nd down, meaning he had the opportunity to throw the ball away and regroup for another play if he was a competent decision-maker.
  • 2 of Nova’s 5 interceptions gave Penn State the ball in Rutgers territory, and 4 of the 5 gave them the ball at the Penn State 37 yard line or better.
  • Nova has thrown multiple interceptions in 11 of the 33 games in which he had at least 15 passing attempts.
  • This wasn’t the worst game of Nova’s career, as he threw 6 interceptions in an upset home loss by undefeated No. 15 Rutgers to Kent State in 2012. This was Kent State’s first ever win against a ranked opponent. Kent State has been playing NCAA football since 1920.
  • Gary Nova will start for Rutgers against Navy next week, according to head coach Kyle Flood.

In conclusion: Ultimately, Penn State is 1-0 in the B1G Ten while Rutgers is 0-1 because Gary Nova is not a good quarterback, Rutgers is not a good team, and Penn State’s defense is very good.

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