I rushed the field for the second time since I entered Rutgers…and it was a rather dramatic moment as Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” blared from the stadium speakers. Rutgers did it again. For the second time in recent Rutgers history, a top team was beaten on a Thursday night to a record setting crowd. The first time it was 44, 111 in the crowd for then No. 3 Louisville Cardinals, this time it was 44, 267 in the crowd for No. 2 University of South Florida Bulls. Was it as surprising as last year? No. It was still a fun game to watch.
Ray Rice produced 181 yards on 39 carries and Tiquan Underwood helped out with five catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns. It looked like Rutgers vs USF would turn out like the Maryland or Cincinnati games, and that actually led to some bandwagoners and poor fans leaving the game at half-time. However, some Jedi mind trick shit was pulled in this game by Coach Schiano and the players.
“We don’t do a lot of that around here, we try to stick to the nuts and bolts but when there’s an opportunity we try to take advantage.” – Greg Schiano
First, there was a clutch trick play that still amazes me because Rutgers doesn’t do this kind of stuff. Jeremy Ito faked a punt and threw a 36 yard pass to James Townsend and that set up a field goal. Second, holder Andrew DePaola threw a key third quarter touchdown pass on an apparent field goal attempt to Kevin Brock that gave Rutgers a 27-17 lead. Third, Jeremy Ito kicked a 51-yarder in the fourth quarter that provided the three point differential and sealed the Bulls’ fate. Lastly, the defense sacked Bulls quarterback Matt Grothe seven times for 60 yards in losses, and USF’s last effort was also intercepted by the defense. Everything just came together so well to make an exciting game.
Still…there were lots of mistakes on both sides. This game basically resembled the 2007 college football season: somewhat sloppy, strange, and unpredictable. I think Zemek on Fox Sports says it best so I’ll quote him.
Thursday night’s “Rumble on the Raritan” is hard to assess because Rutgers’ last Thursday night conquest — a come-from-behind classic against Louisville in 2006 — represented a transcendent sports event. When the Scarlet Knights stormed the No. 3 Cardinals last November — and Rutgers students stormed the field after another win over a top 10 team — the moment possessed a soaring and epic quality befitting an occasion that endures forever in the public memory. When Rutgers’ roster of Rudys pulled off the palace coup against a high-flying bunch of Redbirds 11 months ago, the nation stood spellbound in the face of the magic woven by Schiano, Brian Leonard, and the rest of a team that put Rutgers football on the map. It provided the state of New Jersey with one of its all-time great sports moments.
This year’s Thursday football feast became a joyride for Rutgers, but against South Florida, the Scarlet Knights didn’t display the excellence they brought against Louisville last season. The same Thursday celebration erupted on the same field, led by the same jubilant head coach and the same ecstatic student body, but the way Rutgers gained the winner’s circle was markedly different from last year’s comeback against Brian Brohm, Bobby Petrino, and Co.
Against Louisville in 2006, Rutgers didn’t make a single misstep in the second half. Against South Florida, the Scarlet Knights muffed a punt, fumbled the ball with just over four minutes left in regulation, and took a delay of game penalty on a punt with 1:41 left in their own red zone. Instead of keeping South Florida’s defense off balance with occasional play action passes, Rutgers’ offense went into a shell, trying to drain clock midway through the fourth quarter in an apparent attempt to play not to lose.
Three turnovers, a blocked field goal, an extremely shaky passing game, and the inability of Ray Rice to do anything in the red zone produced a Rutgers effort that, against better teams, would have led to a third home loss for the Scarlet Knights. But South Florida — far from the No. 2 team in the country — wasn’t good enough to take advantage. This contest was ultimately decided by the Bulls’ inability to punish Rutgers for its boatload of miscues.
So I agree with most of what I quoted, this year’s Rutgers team isn’t as good as last year’s because of all the young players. We’ll see on Saturday though if Rutgers has improved their game when they take on West Virginia.