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After losing his job last season, Rutgers QB Gary Nova among nation's leaders

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PISCATAWAY, New Jersey — Gary Nova knows there's no denying his second-half swoons.

In 2012, Rutgers was off to a 7-0 start with Nova tossing 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. Then came the final six games, where Nova threw seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions as Rutgers went 2-4.

Last year played out similarly. Nova got off to another strong start, throwing 13 touchdowns and four interceptions as Rutgers started 4-1. But the team slid in the second half of the season as Nova's play worsened and he was benched in the final three games.

Nova has played well overall this year besides one bad game against Penn State in which he threw five interception. He has seven TDs and three interceptions in his last three games, including a showing against Michigan that earned him Big Ten player of the week honors.

It's still an open questions whether things will be different this year as Rutgers (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) enters the second half of the season starting at Ohio State (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten).

"We'll see what happens," Nova said. "Obviously, I go out there and try to play my best every game."

So far — aside from the Penn State game — Nova's played some of his best games to date. His completion percentage (62 percent), yards per attempt (10.7) and passing efficiency (170.9) this season are all the best in his career for a single season by significant margins.

Nova ranks second in the Big Ten in touchdown passes (13), passing yards (1,601) and passing efficiency, and third in passing yards per game (266.8).

And rather than fold after the Penn State game, Nova's flourished, completing 63.5 percent of his passes for 846 yards the past three games.

"What I do think that speaks to is how mentally tough he is, because there's a lot of positions on a football team, but none of them are like being the starting quarterback, and I think he's handled that position very well," coach Kyle Flood said. "He's gotten better at it in his career, and I think this year, he's done an excellent job."

Nova insists he doesn't think about the rumblings of another potential debacle, though he acknowledges the chatter.

"All that talk about the downward spiral and things like that, I don't really worry about that," Nova said. "But not having to answer questions about that for another week is pretty cool."

Meanwhile, he's emerging as one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

His counterpart this week, J.T. Barrett, is right up the there with him. The Ohio State redshirt freshman leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency (186.3) and total offense (326 yards per game) and is second in passing yards per game (270.8 yards).

Nova isn't comparing himself with Barrett.

"As much as that's a great thing to play against a quarterback like him, I got to worry about those big guys on defense and have my mind on them," Nova said.

Rutgers' all-time leader in touchdown passes knows the second half of the season will determine how he's ultimately remembered. How he handles that is simple.

"Winning," Nova said. "I'm just going out there trying to win games. Like I said, I feel as confident as I ever have with this team, with the guys around me, so we just got to go out there and give it our best and try to win games and show what Rutgers is about."

And his teammates know they need Nova to stay at the top of his game to do so.

"So when he's rolling, we'll be fine," wide receiver Leonte Carroo said.

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