Rutgers (2-0) at South Florida (2-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, September 13, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Raymond James Stadium (65,857) -- Tampa, Florida. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Rutgers 1-0, South Florida 1-0. Away Record: Rutgers 1-0, South Florida 1-0. Neutral Record: Rutgers 0-0, South Florida 0-0. Conference Record: Rutgers 0-0, South Florida 0-0. Series Record: Rutgers leads 5-2.
GAME NOTES: Big East conference play gets underway for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, when they drop in to Raymond James Stadium to take on the South Florida Bulls in a Thursday night affair.
Rutgers comes into its first conference game of the season sporting a 2-0 record after a 26-0 shutout of FCS opponent Howard in week two. It is the second time in the last three seasons that the Knights have started the season 2-0 after splitting their first two to begin the 2011 campaign. The shutout means that Rutgers is the only team in the nation to have blanked an opponent in each of the last seven seasons.
Like Rutgers, South Florida is also 2-0 after the first two weeks of the season although the Bulls road was a bit less certain. The Bulls needed a 15-point comeback on the road against Nevada to capture a 32-31 victory. The game came down to the final minute with B.J. Daniels hooking up with Andre Davis on a 56-yard touchdown pass that gave the Bulls the lead for the first time in the game. The 15-point comeback was the second biggest in program history.
Since South Florida has only been a member of the Big East since 2005 this conference matchup doesn't have a great deal of history. There have only been seven total meetings with Rutgers holding the edge in the series 5-2. That includes a 20-17 overtime win in last year's matchup. Rutgers is also 2-1 all-time against the Bulls in Tampa.
Offense has not been the strong suit for Rutgers in the squad's first two wins. The team is currently sixth in the eight-team conference in scoring (25.0 ppg) and yards per game (315). The 26 points and 321 yards the Knights gained against Howard were the high points of the season.
At the center of the team's offensive efforts this season is running back Jawan Jamison. The sophomore rushed for a game-high 110 yards to power the Knights' running game which accumulated 191 total yards. Jamison now has three straight games with at least 100 yards dating back to last season, making him the first Rutgers back since Ray Rice to accomplish the feat. With 222 total rushing yards on the season, Jamison currently leads the Big East in rushing.
The passing game has been much more of a work-in-progress for the Knights with first-year starter Gary Nova still adjusting. Nova has only thrown for 288 yards in the first two games. His 144.0 yards per game is the second lowest mark among quarterbacks with at least 25 attempts in the conference. Nova did throw for a pair of touchdowns but still failed to find any consistency, completing 15-of-27 passes for 130 yards against Howard. His development will be key if Rutgers hopes to make a serious run in the Big East.
While the offense has been passable, the defense has been dominant for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are allowing the second fewest points (6.0) and yards (205.5) per game in the conference this season. In the win over Howard, the Knights held the Bison to just 149 total yards, including 74 yards on 38 carries. Rutgers is now 42-4 since 2000 when holding an opponent to less that 300 yards of total offense. The impressive numbers do need to be looked at with some perspective though considering the level of competition the Knights have faced.
The team's ability to consistently stop the run was predicated on the amount of times defenders were able to get in the backfield. Overall the squad had 13 tackles for loss and four sacks. Jamal Merrell led the way with 14 total tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, both team-highs. He was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts. Khaseem Greene also had a solid game with 10 total tackles and a sack.
South Florida needed a mammoth offensive effort to overcome such a big deficit last Saturday. The team racked up 572 total yards on the day with 363 coming through the air and 209 coming on the ground. So far on the season it has been the passing game that has been the more dominant, with the team totaling 607 yards through the air.
The bulk of that output has come from Daniels, who is second in the Big East with 588 yards on the season and tied for the top spot with six passing touchdowns. Daniels completed 22-of-40 pass attempts for 363 yards and three scores in the win over Nevada and showed real poise in leading the comeback charge in the fourth quarter.
Part of Daniels' success has got to be credited to Davis though who did much more than catch the game-winning touchdown. Davis was able to get open all day and catch anything thrown in his direction on his way to setting USF single-game records in receptions (12) and yards (191). Davis was named Big East Offensive Player of the Week for his performance. The running game also got involved with Lindsey Lamar and Demetri Murray sharing the bulk of carries and combining for 145 yards and two scores.
The offense needed such a massive effort because the defense struggled to stop Nevada, which put up 549 total yards in the game. With the Wolf Pack accumulating so many yards, USF defenders were constantly in action and as a team, ended up with 97 total tackles in the game which was the most since 2003. The defense did come up and make some big plays on the ball to keep the Bulls within striking distance throughout by forcing and recovering three fumbles.
Two of those fumbles were created by Sam Barrington, while Mike Lanaris led the team with 10 total tackles including one for loss.
The Big East seems to be wide open this season and Rutgers and South Florida are two teams that both will contend late into the season. With Nova still a question mark though it will come down to whether or not Rutgers can score enough on offense and if the defense can remain as dominant against an offense like South Florida's. If not, the road to a Big East crown will be that much more difficult for the Knights and that much easier for the Bulls.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Florida 20, Rutgers 13
09/12 10:40:55 ET