WHO: USF (4-3, 0-3 Big East) vs. Rutgers (5-3, 2-2 Big East)
WHERE: High Point Solutions Stadium, New Brunswick, NJ
TV: ESPN 3 (click here for a direct link)
USF looks to avoid its first in-season four-game losing streak ever and also pick up their first win at Rutgers since 2005 in tonight’s matchup.
Rather than controlling the game with the run, like Rutgers did when they had Ray Rice a few years ago, this year’s Scarlet Knights are relying on freshman quarterback Gary Nova and Biletnikoff Award finalist Mohamed Sanu at wide receiver. Other talented receivers like Mark Harrison and Brandon Coleman also give Nova options in the passing game, although they have been more inconsistent. Thanks to better play-calling and a more suitable offensive scheme, the Rutgers pass protection has improved greatly from last year, when they gave up an FBS-worst 62 sacks. But as a freshman, Nova is still prone to making bad decisions and giving the ball away. USF’s ability to force turnovers and take advantage of Nova’s mistakes will be crucial.
When the Bulls have the ball, it will be important to avoid third-and-long situations. B.J. Daniels must be sharp in directing the USF running game — they can’t afford negative rushing plays, so he will need to make the right decision consistently on the option runs in the Bulls’ usual game plan. Some of the quick-hitting option runs and shovel passes that slowed down the Rutgers blitz last year may make an appearance again in this game. USF has to give themselves options on third down, because the Scarlet Knights would like nothing better than to get USF into a situation where they have to throw, then bring pressure and try and add to their sack (26) and interception (15) totals. This is a much faster and athletic defense than the one the Bulls lined up against last year, and that has given coach Greg Schiano the freedom to dictate the game defensively, like he is accustomed to doing.
The special teams battle looks like a standoff. Neither team punts the ball well — USF’s Justin Brockhaus-Kann and Rutgers’ Justin Doerner each average under 40 yards per kick, although Doerner has placed nearly half his punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. The Bulls’ Maikon Bonani has an edge over Scarlet Knights kicker San San Te, who’s made two 50+ yard field goals but also missed two under 30 yards. USF will need to be wary of Rutgers’ ability to block kicks, and their kickoff returners Jordan Thomas and Jeremy Deering (who had a big game as a receiver last year against the Bulls).