PISCATAWAY — Grinding offense and suffocating defense, with a big play or two sprinkled in here and there.
That’s the Rutgers way and it worked to perfection in a 19-3 victory Saturday against Connecticut that was anything but pretty but totally effective.
“If you could bottle today’s game, you’d have Rutgers football,” coach Kyle Flood said.
Jawan Jamison ran for 110 yards for the 22nd-ranked Scarlet Knights and Wayne Warren returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to leave no doubt about the outcome.
The Scarlet Knights (5-0, 2-0 Big East) are off to their best start since 2006, and they avenged a bitter loss to the Huskies that ended last regular season and kept Rutgers from sharing the conference title.
Jamison ran it 28 times and recorded his sixth straight 100-yard game and Gary Nova hooked up with Mark Harrison on a 14-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter.
Warren put it away with 3 minutes, 44 seconds left in the fourth when he grabbed a pass down the middle from Chandler Whitmer and then darted through would-be-tacklers toward the end zone.
“I used to be a quarterback in high school,” Warren said. “My offensive instinct kicked in. I caught the ball and I was just, ‘Find a hole, find a hole, make a play.' I was really good at it in high school, so I guess it paid off for me today.”
Warren pushed across the goal line with some help from his teammates.
“When you can make teams one dimensional, that’s what happens,” Flood said. “It’s like an avalanche.”
UConn benched leading rusher Lyle McCombs for the first quarter after he was arrested and charged with second-degree breaching the peace Friday. He finished with 32 yards on 12 carries and the Huskies (3-3, 0-1) were held to their worst scoring output since getting shut out by Louisville in the middle of the 2010 season.
“We had a hard time stopping their slotting and angling up front,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “Had a hard time finishing our blocks. We have to be able to run the ball better, more efficiently.”
McCombs is accused of yelling, pushing and spitting at his girlfriend during an argument outside a dorm in Storrs, Conn.
“I just got put in a bad situation,” McCombs said. “I could have handled it better, but it is what it is. I apologized for my mistake.”
Rutgers has won six of the last eight meetings with UConn but lost last year’s game 40-22.
“Last year we got blindsided,” defensive tackle Scott Vallone said.
Not this year. Rutgers hadn’t played since winning at Arkansas 35-26 two weeks ago. Nova and the offense led the way in Fayetteville, but this was more like it for the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers, which came in ranked No. 1 in the country in rush defense, allowed 53 yards rushing and 244 yards total, forced five turnovers and committed one, and held the ball for 32 minutes.
“Stop the run, turnovers. All the things that we’ve done around here and what we’ve prided ourselves on,” Vallone said.
The Scarlet Knights, unveiling new black uniforms with red trim to go with silver helmets, seemed intent on letting their defense keep them undefeated against a UConn team that was second-to-last in the Big East in total offense.
Linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais were all over UConn’s runners, and the Huskies couldn’t keep Rutgers blitzes from forcing Whitmer to hurry his throws. Greene also had an interception late in the fourth quarter.
Rutgers chipped away offensively with Jamison running tough against a defense that had only been allowing 74 yards per game on the ground. Nova rarely went downfield but finished 18-for-27 for 157 yards.
The Scarlet Knights’ first drive of the second half was the best of the game for either team, an 84-yarder on nine plays, highlighted by Jamison’s 28-yard run and capped when Harrison slipped a couple of tacklers and reached into the end zone with 9:09 left to make it 13-3.
Rutgers turned two first-quarter turnovers by UConn into two field goals by Kyle Federico in a span of 3:15.
Logan Ryan intercepted Whitmer’s pass at the Huskies 45 and that led to Federico’s 45-yarder and a 3-0 lead.
Whitmer finished 14-of-32 for 191 yards with four interceptions.
On the ensuing kickoff, Nick Williams was stripped by Tejay Johnson and Jamal Merrell recovered for Rutgers at UConn’s 29. After Jamison’s 18-yard touchdown run was called back for holding, Federico booted through a 31-yarder.
Federico had a long field goal blocked later, and missed the rest of the game with what Flood described as a lower body injury.
Chad Christen kicked a 19-yard field goal in the second quarter for UConn to make it 6-3.
“We have to do a better job of capitalizing,” McCombs said. “It’s nothing they did, it’s what we did. We didn’t get it done.”