Not everyone wants to admit it, but senior safety Johnathan Aiken has no problem saying what is on his mind. He wants a win badly against budding rival Penn State, and said the rest of the locker room is there with him.
Aiken noticed a change in the locker room as soon as game week shifted to Penn State. That is when bulletin board material surfaced, including Penn State Bill Belton saying that he left New Jersey to play for a “big time” program.”
“I’m definitely related for some quote-unquote big time football as they say,” Aiken said. “It’s about doing it for coach [Kyle] Flood and the guys who are from PA who come here and the guys who hate us now because, for whatever reason, they ended up at Penn State. It’s a rivalry I inherited because of my brothers and my coaches.”
Flood is both composed and respectful when discussing Penn State, often reverting back to the importance of going 1-0.
But for the guys with him in meetings, it is clear that Penn State is not just another game.
“We want this one bad,” Aiken said. “Coach Flood doesn’t even speak of their names. They’re just our neighbors to the west. His level is so high that everybody wants to play for coach Flood. We want this just as bad for him so he can put this on his resume.
“Their rivalries mean more. They played a lot of these guys in high school. I don’t want to let them down no matter what. On the field, their beef is my beef. I’m with them.”
Second-year captain Gary Nova took the quarterbacks approach by remaining diplomatic in discussing Penn State.
As a senior that worked on recruiting many Nittany Lions to Rutgers, Nova was respectful in addressing Saturday as a rivalry game.
“I guess you can make it a rivalry, but for us, you have to look at it as just another game,” Nova said. “… Jersey has great players. A lot of people recruit here. I don’t really have much to say about that, but as far as bulletin board material and things like that – we don’t need more motivation from those kinds of things to play at this level.”
A Penn State win is a chance for a good first impression in the Big Ten, as Flood has said multiple times. But to get too serious about the regional rivalry takes away from focusing on the game itself.
“The meaning of the game, to me, is that first impressions in life count,” Flood said. “And this is our opportunity to make our first impression in the Big Ten Conference. Ultimately, the meaning of the game is an opportunity to be 1-0 and 1-0 in conference play. So the long-term effects of the game, those are the long-term effects of the game, but I do understand the interest that this game has generated, because it is the first.”