PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) - Getting two touchdowns passes from freshman quarterback Gary Nova in his first start wasn't the thing that excited Rutgers coach Greg Schiano after a one-side win over Pittsburgh.
It was the play of his ball-hawking defense, which once again is bringing back memories of the year the Scarlet Knights made a run at the Big East title.
Nova threw two third-quarter touchdowns and Rutgers blitz-happy defense intercepted four passes, recorded six sacks and had a hand in 17 points in posting a 34-10 victory Saturday.
"That was an old-fashioned Rutgers win - it was fun to be a part of," Schiano said after the Scarlet Knights (4-1, 2-0) handed Pittsburgh (3-3, 1-1) its third loss in four games.
"I think they played a physically very aggressive type of football - there was some hitting going on out there," Schiano said. "That's who we have to be because we are not going to be able to stand toe-to-toe with someone and slug it out. We have to run and hit and I was proud of the kids. They continue to create takeaways and score on defense."
Linebacker Steve Beauharnais set up Nova's first touchdown pass with an interception return to the Pittsburgh 18 yard line early in the third quarter and Logan Ryan closed out the scoring by returning his second pick of the game 45-yards late in the fourth quarter.
"We're just playing fast, it's a great thing, it's helping us phenomenally," said defensive tackle Justin Francis, who had two sacks and three quarterback hurries, including a monstrous hit on Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri on the opening drive that seemed to set the tone for the game.
Rutgers came into the game tied with Cincinnati for the national lead in turnovers with 18, and they pushed the total to 22 against a Pittsburgh team that was coming off an impressive win over then No. 16 South Florida.
"Those older teams started the tradition of the defense here, and we're just getting back into the flow of it," said linebacker Khaseem Greene, who led the team with 11 tackles and 1 sacks.
Savon Huggins scored on a 3-yard run and San San Te kicked two long field goals for Rutgers, which is 2-0 in league play for only the second time in 21 years in the Big East. The only other time was 2006, when the Scarlet Knights went 11-2 and lost the conference title to West Virginia in triple overtime.
Ironically, Rutgers was picked to finish last in the preseason Big East poll after going 4-8 last season.
"That don't mean anything to us," Greene said. "We know we have to start somewhere. We know we believe in each other. It's all about us at the end of the day. We gotta go out there and play. So the guys who picked us last, that's their opinion. But we know what we got here in this program and what we're capable of doing."
The big question all week for Rutgers was who would start at quarterback. Nova had replaced Chas Dodd in the second half in rallying Rutgers to a double-overtime win over Syracuse, and Schiano said his decision would be made at game time.
Nova, who decommitted to Pittsburgh after Dave Wannstedt was fired, got the call and made plays when needed. He finished 11 of 24 for 174 yards, hitting Mark Harrison on a 6-yard TD pass and fullback Joe Martinek on a 60-yard screen pass for a score, both in the third quarter. He threw no interceptions.
Pittsburgh's sensational junior Ray Graham - Greene's brother - rushed for 165 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown fourth-quarter run. Kevin Harper added a short field goal for the Panthers, whose high-octane offense was limited to 271 yards.
"It's my job to get the team ready and the responsibility for every single thing tonight goes right here on me," Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham said. "We didn't have our guys ready to play and they came out and whupped our tail."
Graham benched Sunseri (14 of 28 with three picks) at the start of the second half with the Panthers down 6-3 and put in the more mobile Trey Anderson, trying to spark the offense. Anderson was intercepted by Beauharnais on his second series and it led to Nova's TD pass to Harrison. The Martinek touchdown on the screen pass broke the game open.
Martinek said it was obvious the Panthers were blitzing on the play.
"I knew if Gary got the ball out and we sold it well, all I had to do was make one or two people miss," Martinek said. "It was the perfect call, everyone did their job and I was untouched in the end zone."