Monday Notebook: Youth at Cornerback

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers is finally back in game week after not playing since Oct. 10 at Louisville. The Scarlet Knights, in front of a Homecoming crowd, face the Houston spread offense with two true freshmen starting at cornerback and the conference wide open after UCF's upset over Louisville.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The way Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood sees things, cornerbacks Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi are only true freshmen in name. Flood named the pair as starters for Saturday afternoon's Homecoming clash with Houston, and sees the first-half experience for both as enough to be ready for bigger roles.

"After six games, I don't know that they're true freshmen anymore," Flood said. "They've played on a national stage against really potent offense like SMU and Louisville. I didn't have the same feeling as the Fresno game. We've played half a season now, so I think they have a certain degree of experience."

Barnwell took the bench after struggles against Louisville and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but returns as a starter this week. His replacement, Cioffi, made an impact against the Cardinals with a sack, forced fumble and recovery.

Rutgers lost Ian Thomas and Lew Toler in the bye week, and needs its two true freshmen to step up, said junior safety Lorenzo Waters.

"They definitely will be [ready]," Waters said. "We're going to take this week. I'm going to sit down with them and make sure they're good with everything, so they'll be ready."

Moving On

Four interceptions on a national stage is not easy to forget, and it will not be by quarterback Gary Nova. Nova said a key to playing quarterback is blocking out past mistakes, and stuggles against Louisville will not make him hesitance.

Nova prides himself on the ability to be aggressive, and will not shy away from making throws in his repertoire.

"You have to know when to be smart with the ball," Nova said. "In a late-game situation [like SMU] where it's overtime and you're trying to get a win, it's not time to be tentative. If you see an opening, you have to fire it in there and try to win the game."

Ground and Pound

Rutgers (4-2, 1-1) continues to look for production in the running game with leading rusher Paul James out at least another week. Running backs Savon Huggins and Justin Goodwin remain co-starters on the depth chart and both project to play key roles against Houston.

For Goodwin, who totaled 222 yards and three touchdowns against SMU in his breakout, the 18 days between games gave him time to catch up in the playbook.

"I think he realized pretty quickly that it's not like high school where you can just go out and play," said fullback Michael Burton. "You really have to study who you're playing and their personnel and blitzes. He's been in the film room a lot. He's really getting a grasp of what the position looks like."

Homecoming Buzz

The noon start to Homecoming did not scare away the Rutgers student section, devoured its ticket allotment for the Houston game. Rutgers is excited to return home, for its first game at High Point Solutions Stadium in four weeks.

"Absolutely, we're extra excited," Burton said. "It's going to be a great atmosphere. Student tickets sold out right away. It's felt like forever since we've been home, even playing with the bye week. We had a great week last week in the bye and we're ready to go."

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