Monday Notebook: On to Arkansas

PISCATAWAY, N,J, -- Rutgers (3-0, 1-0) faces its toughest non-conference foe of the season Saturday night at Arkansas. Coming off a thrilling 23-13 victory over South Florida in the conference opener, the Scarlet Knights have regrouped and began preparation for the Razorbacks.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova spent the winter watching every one of his throws from the previous season, and also throwing balls away.

As he spoke Monday about his improved play and decision making this season, the sophomore said 2011 served as a learning experience that has so far paid dividends in Rutgers' 3-0 start.

"I think this year he's a lot more comfortable," Rutgers receiver Tim Wright said. "I think he's a lot more patient. He trusts his linemen to give him that time to go through the progressions."

Nova is 49 of 89 for 565 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in wins against Tulane, Howard and South Florida.

In addition, he is yet to be sacked and has demonstrated an ability to get rid of the ball quickly when he feels protection breaking down.

"Last year I tried to force everything," Nova said. "This summer I tried to practice throwing it away and throwing it at receivers' feet to get my body used to throwing the ball away."

Nova is also aided by having a full-time quarterback coach. Last season offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti doubled as the quarterbacks coach, and was in the press box calling games. Although offensive coordinator Dave Brock is upstairs this season, quarterbacks coach Rob Spence is on the sideline and spends plenty of time with Nova when the defense is on the field.

"If I have a question, I go right to (Spence) when I come off the field," Nova said. "He usually says something and I'm thinking the same thing. We're usually on the same page."

Making a mark
Rutgers fifth-year senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone said playing Arkansas gives the Scarlet Knights the opportunity to open eyes on a national level by playing an SEC team.

"Everyone says that is one of the best conferences in the country," Vallone said. "To get ourselves on a national stage, we're going to have to play well against them and come out with a victory. We're not looking at it as a showcase. We're looking at it as a game we want to win."

When it comes to the SEC, senior linebacker Khaseem Greene understands the national perception, but sees the Big East as more than capable of competing.

"I think everybody else makes it so special," Greene said. "The SEC is supposed to be the powerhouse conference. That's credit to them, respect to them and I respect why they're viewed the way they are. To us, it's just another opponent. … Whenever you play an out of conference game, it's a great chance to show what the Big East can do."

Complete respect
Ask junior Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan and he will be the first to admit that Arkansas is as tough as they come. Of every team Ryan prepared to face, Arkansas is the best on film, he said.

"I'm looking forward to it a lot," Ryan said. "I think, talent wise, this is the best team that we've ever gone against. That's what you work so hard in the offseason for, games like this. … I just think that they have extreme depth and talent at each position."

Improved OL play
Scarlet Knights tight end D.C. Jefferson said knowledge is the reason the offensive line is playing better this season.

"I think it's more confidence now," Jefferson said. "Knowing how young our offensive line (was last season), they're more mature in their playbook, and on the field they're more confident in knowing their abilities. The aggression was always there. If you don't know everything how you're supposed to know it, you're not going to be able to explode and play how you want to play."

Bujari sore, but ready
Rutgers starting center Betim Bujari arrived at the Monday media gathering with a sore ankle, but he said he will be ready for Arkansas. He said Arkansas' front four possesses size Rutgers isn't used to seeing.

"They look like a tough defense," Bujari said. "I think upfront, size …they're (one of) the bigger (teams). They're bigger than most people we go against."

James to return?

Sophomore Savon Huggins continues to be a question mark with his injury, but redshirt freshman Paul James (high ankle sprain) could be back to fill in as the backup to Jawan Jamison.

"Somebody I think also that will be available to us this week is P.J. James, he's been out running around with us a little more, and we think he'll have some availability for us on Saturday," said head coach Kyle Flood.

Lou Groza honors

Freshman Kyle Federico was one of three kickers to earn Lou Groza weekly honors. Federico drilled a 52-yard field goal and was responsible for 11 of Rutgers' 23 points against USF.

"That's an exciting award for him to get and I don't think it will be the last one he gets," Flood said. "We are really, really pleased with the way he's come along as a true freshman and to make a 52-yard field goal in his home state, longer field goal than he ever made in high school, that was a great boost to us before half-time."


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