PISCATAWAY — The way Rutgers’ defense is playing, Kyle Flood doesn’t need much from his offense these days.
Gary Nova threw two touchdown passes to Brandon Coleman and the Scarlet Knights swarming defense limited Howard to 149 total yards Saturday, giving Flood a 26-0 victory in his first home game as the Scarlet Knights’ coach.
“Just being out there in general is fun, but when you are hitting on all cylinders and you are holding them to minus yards and minimum gains, it’s fun,” said Scarlet Knights linebacker Khaseem Greene, the Big East defensive player of the year in 2011. “You got out there and understand what you are doing on the defense, but also have fun and be happy and be excited about it, that’s comes with a great team playing great.”
The defense certainly is doing that. It has yielded 12 points and 411 yards in two games and scored a touchdown in helping the Scarlet Knights get off to their second 2-0 start in three years.
Nova and the offense have been stagnant and it will need to improve heading into the conference opener on Thursday at South Florida.
“We have a great defense,” said Nova, who was 15 of 27 for 130 yards with TD passes of 32 and 16 yards. “But we want to be the offense that doesn’t have to depend on the defense. We want to give those guys good field position and stuff like that so they don’t have their backs against the wall all the time. It’s a great (security) blanket to have, a defense like that.”
Savon Huggins scored on a 1-yard run and cornerback Brandon Jones scored his second touchdown in as many games, jogging six yards with a blocked punt. It was one of two special teams blocks that led to touchdowns.
Howard (1-1) of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference had a chance to take an early lead after Julien David intercepted Nova on the opening series, and the Bison eventually got a first and goal at the 2 after a pass interference penalty.
William Parker, however, fumbled a third-down pitch and defensive tackle Scott Vallone recovered.
“It’s a big momentum shift,” said Howard quarterback Jamie Cunningham, who was 9 of 18 for 68 yards and four sacks.
It was all Rutgers and its defense after that as the Scarlet Knights posted a shutout for the seventh straight season.
Rutgers linebacker Jamal Merrell had a team-high 14 tackles less than a week after his older brother, Benny, was shot and killed last week in Delaware.
“When you play with emotion you play with more than with what you already play,” said Merrell, whose other brother, Jamil, also is on the team. “That’s what me and my brother are playing for now, off the emotion knowing he is watching us.”
Howard, which earned $325,000 for playing the game, limited Rutgers’ offense for most of the first quarter. The Scarlet Knights didn’t get going until Jawan Jamison (10 rushes for 110 yards) broke at least a half dozen tackles on a 64-yard run to the Howard 24. Huggins finished off the drive by plowing in from a yard out for a 7-0 lead.
The lead grew to 13-0 early in the second quarter when Miles Shuler blocked a punt by John Fleck on a play that started at the Bison 29. Jones, who tallied on an interception return against Tulane last week, scooped up the ball near the goal line and scored.
“We gave up some big plays here and there, but we played tough,” Howard coach Gary Harrell said of his team’s effort. “I am proud of my guys.”
Nova stretched the lead to 19-0 with 7:05 left with his 32-yard touchdown to a wide open Coleman on a seam pattern. The two-play 33 yard drive was set up when Wayne Warren got a hand on a Fleck punt that went only 15 yards.
Rutgers added a final score late in the third quarter on the 16-yard pass to Coleman, who now has three TD passes this season. It capped a nine-play, 91-yard drive.
The Scarlet Knights finished with 321 yards, with 191 coming on 33 rushing attempts.
“Their defense came out to play, that’s for sure,” Howard linebacker Keith Pough said. “We didn’t match their intensity in all three phases of the game. The best team won today. We prepared. We were prepared. They were the team we thought they were and we felt we could play with them. We didn’t do our 1-11. Everyone didn’t do their job.”
Rutgers is now 9-0 against MEAC teams and has outscored them 105-0 in the past three years.
Howard last visited High Point Solutions Stadium in 2009, where the Bison fell 45-7.