The dream of an undefeated season and a hopeful shot to play for a national title is over for Rutgers, 15th in the BCS standings, after an upset loss at home to Kent State.
Everything else is still in place.
The non-conference loss won’t deny the Scarlet Knights a chance at the Big East Conference regular-season title and a BCS bowl bid. That is what their sights are set on now, following the stunning 35-23 defeat by the Golden Flashes on Saturday.
”This is a lump in the road,” Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene said. ”We control our own destiny and we can still do what we set out to do since the beginning of the year. This is all about how we respond. To the young guys, this class is different and I know they will follow the leaders, and it’s on us to set the example how to react after losing the game in the way that we did.
”I’m just ready to let this soak in a little bit, keep this taste in my mouth and get back on the practice field.”
Rutgers (7-1, 4-0 Big East) will have a bye week and then face Army. The conference title hopes will be determined in the final three games against Cincinnati (5-2, 1-1), Pittsburgh (4-4, 1-3) and No. 16 Louisville (8-0, 3-0). The last game will be played at Rutgers on Nov. 29.
”There’s a goal that is in front of us that’s never been done at Rutgers, the Big East championship,” Kyle Flood said after his first lost as the Scarlet Knights coach. ”We have an opportunity sitting in conference play to be able to do that over the last three games of our season. That will be conference games. I think we’ll be very motivated, there’s no doubt about that. But I’m always up front and honest with the team.
Kent State (7-1) had been 0-22 against ranked teams, and this certainly was its biggest win since it started playing football in 1920. The six-game winning streak is its longest since 1940.
”This is a great win for our program,” said Kent State coach Darrell Hazell, a Rutgers assistant from 2001-03. ”We came on the road against a very tough opponent. We knew they were going to be tough, and they did a great job prior to playing us. I thought our kids prepared like crazy this week. We made enough plays early in the game to keep those guys off balance. Rutgers kept fighting back, and our guys kept fighting them off.”
The biggest play of the game was made by Golden Flashes defensive end Mark Fackler, a one-handed, 25-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the second quarter that gave Kent State a 14-3 lead and the belief it could win.
It was his second interception of the game and one of six picks by the Golden Flashes, who forced a season-high seven turnovers.
”(We were) dropping some of the inside guys, and I just saw his eyes, followed his eyes and was right there on the first one,” Fackler said after his first two-interception game since high school. ”The second one was a play call. We were going that way, and I saw what he did. That was a play that was going to happen. It was there.”
Flood said it was a remarkable play by Fackler.
” I thought it was an excellent reaction,” Flood said. ”Really one of those plays, I don’t know if you’ll see it again. You don’t see it very often. The last time I can remember something like that, I’m sure it’s happened since, I remember Julius Peppers doing it when he was playing at North Carolina. As an offensive line coach you tend to remember those type of things because they’re so unique.”
Kent State intercepted Gary Nova six times and recovered a fumble to give the Mid-American Conference its second straight win over an undefeated Big East team. Toledo knocked off Cincinnati last week.
”It’s a terrible feeling,” said Nova, who was 25 of 46 for 313 yards. ”You never want to feel like this, especially with all of the hard work you’ve put in. You’ve just got to take the punches and keep going.”
Spencer Keith threw touchdown passes of 1 yard to Zack Hitchens and 15 yards to Josh Boyle, the latter giving the Golden Flashes a 35-17 lead with 11:30 to play. Dri Archer, the nation’s leader in touchdowns coming into this week, scored on a 7-yard run, and Trayion Durham tallied from 3-yards out.
Nova, the Big East’s top offensive player last week, threw touchdowns of 19 yards to Tim Wright and 24 to Brandon Coleman. Jawan Jamison scored on a 2-yard run to cut Rutgers’ deficit to 12 with 10:35 to play, but the Scarlet Knights never got closer.
At the final gun, Kent State players bumped chests, high-fived, and ran to the corner of the stadium to share the celebration with their few followers from Ohio who came to New Jersey.
Nova was intercepted four times in the first half, resulting in 14 points and a 21-3 Kent State lead.
”It always builds momentum when you get turnovers,” said linebacker Luke Batton, who had 13 tackles, a sack and an interception. ”It gets your whole team up, especially the defense. Everyone is trying to get a little piece of the pie. I guess you can say it snowballs.”
Kent State never trailed after Keith hit Hitchens with a 1-yard TD pass for a 7-3 lead. Fackler’s TD stretched the lead to 14-3, and Archer pushed it to 21-3 after an interception by Leon Green set up a 45-yard drive.
The Golden Flashes allowed Rutgers to get back in the game in the final 59 seconds with a five-play, 83-yard drive that started with a 45-yard run by Jamison and ended with a 19-yard TD pass to Wright with :04 left in the half.
However, Rutgers never got any closer in the second half.