Redshirt freshman Jawan Jamison set the bar for Rutgers' ground attack, running for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the Scarlet Knights' (9-4) fifth straight bowl victory (they are now 5-1 in bowls under current head coach Greg Schiano) and second triumph this season at Yankee Stadium after beating Army, 27-12, in November.
"I want to carry the load," Jamison said after the game. "I want to put the team on my back and be that guy who everyone can depend on in the time of need. Thanks to my offensive line I was able to be that guy today."
"Really, really proud of our kids," said Schiano. "Season certainly didn't end the way we wanted with [a loss to] Connecticut. They worked their tails off in preparation for this game."
Meanwhile, after pulling off the biggest shocker of the college football season on Nov. 18 with their win over then-No. 2 Oklahoma State, the Cyclones (6-7) finished off their 2011 schedule with a three-game losing skid.
"I thought both sides gave a great effort," said Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads. "It was the style and type of game that I thought it was going to be. The team that played the best football won the football game today."
Iowa State was the best team at the start of the game, employing a fast-paced offense to drive deep into Rutgers territory on their first two possessions. But the Scarlet Knights' defense wouldn't break, and the Cyclones were forced to settle for Zach Guyer field goals from 40 and 45 yards out to take a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Rutgers' offense started to pick up on its second possession, but a missed 47-yard field goal from San San Te gave the ball right back. The RU defense shut down ISU though, and on their ensuing possession, they put themselves in position to score on fourth-and-goal from the Cyclones' one-yard line. Jamison would then dodge a defender in the backfield and go in for the touchdown.
Up 7-6 with the extra point, Rutgers extended that lead shortly thereafter when Khaseem Greene and Wayne Warren stripped the ball from Cyclones quarterback Jared Barnett, who was subsequently replaced by Steele Jantz. Defensive tackle Scott Vallone scooped it up and returned it to the Iowa State four-yard line, but the Scarlet Knights were forced to settle for a field goal from Te that made it 10-6, Rutgers.
With 8:01 remaining in the first half, the Scarlet Knights made their own quarterback change, relieving Chas Dodd in favor of Gary Nova, who quickly led Rutgers into the red zone. The drive ended successfully with Jamison's second rushing touchdown, and RU held a 17-6 lead with 2:24 left in the half.
Rutgers pushed the advantage to 20-6 when Te booted a 29-yard field goal through the uprights with 13:28 left in the game. But Iowa State wouldn't go down without a fight, pulling to within one score on a 20-yard touchdown run by Jeff Woody with 10 minutes to play. The drive was helped along by a Scarlet Knights holding penalty that gave the Cyclones a fresh set of downs, bailing them out of a dicey third-and-24 situation.
With the momentum seemingly building in their favor, the Cyclones forced the Knights into a three-and-out before a 20-yard punt return gave them the ball on their own 42-yard line with 8:09 to play. A small but hopeful legion of Cyclones fans chanted "ISU, ISU!" as Jantz led the offense back onto the field.
All the optimism was for naught, however, as the RU defense clamped down once more by forcing the Cyclones to go three-and-out. The ISU offense wound up going an anemic 2-for-13 on third-down conversions and turned the ball over three times.
That would effectively prove to be ISU's last gasp. On the next Rutgers drive, which started from the Scarlet Knights' 13-yard line, Dodd handed off to Jamison for one yard before connecting on a game-sealing, 86-yard touchdown pass to freshman Brandon Coleman, who at 6-foot-6 had a decided height advantage over 5-foot-7 Cyclones cornerback Jeremy Reeves.
"When the ball went up, I saw where Jeremy Reeves was positioned, and I was very hopeful for an interception," said Rhoads. "They both went up and made the play, timing was good and their kid made a great, great catch and run for a touchdown."
Rutgers capped off things with 2:39 to go when Jantz threw his second interception of the game, this one to cornerback Logan Ryan.
"I am really, really proud of Logan Ryan," said Schiano, a former secondary coach. "People want to talk about 60, 70 plays; a corner comes down to five or six plays, and you either make them or you don't, and that's what you get remembered for. He made great plays tonight."
Khaseem Greene was carted off the field after his right ankle appeared to snap late in the fourth. Sitting up in the cart, he raised his fist to an ovation of cheers from the crowd. The junior and the Big East co-defensive player of the year did not end his collegiate career with an injury, though, as he plans return to school for his senior season instead of declaring for the NFL draft.
"At least it happened at the end of the season," Greene told reporters. "I'll be all right. I've got to get some more X-rays and I'll probably be in a cast for a while, but this will be all patched up and fixed before next season starts."
"I understand it wasn't pretty-looking on TV," Schiano said. "Our medical people think he's going to be okay. It's just going to take some time to heal."
Greene recorded six tackles before the injury, giving him 133 for the season -- more than any Scarlet Knights player since Tyronne Stowe had 150 in 1986.
As for RU's All-Big East first team wideout Mohamed Sanu, he was held in relative check, catching six balls for 62 yards. Despite this, the junior set the school record for career receptions with 210, passing the mark previously held by running back Brian Leonard. The 6-foot-2 wide receiver finished this season with 115 receptions.
As the Scarlet Knights accepted the trophy at midfield after the win, Schiano gave a very brief speech: "Eric! Eric!" he exclaimed into a microphone, "this one's for you."
Schiano was referring to Eric LeGrand, who could be seen with a wide grin on the Yankee Stadium jumbotron.
LeGrand was paralyzed from the shoulders down during a game against Army in 2010. The former defensive lineman, who has served as an inspirational figure for Rutgers all season, was with his teammates in New York all week in advance of the game.
Notes: A completely capitalized Iowa State name, painted in yellow lettering and surrounded by an orange-red fill, was centered on the first end zone, located where home plate would normally be. The same was done for Rutgers across the field and just in front of the straightaway center-field wall, where white lettering was surrounded by a sea of Scarlet Knight red. Each sideline jutted out to the respective foul poles.