Thursday Night Terror for Bulls

By: Rob Shaw Email
By: Rob Shaw Email

On the topic of Thursday night football, I wouldn't wish it upon anyone. Last week, the Noles and Blazers took a stumble, and last night, the South Florida Bulls and Rattlers followed suit.

The loss burns more for the South Florida Bulls, as they were undefeated and ranked second int he nation.

The game was played at Rutgers, where the Scarlet Knights improved to 5-2 on the season.

-- THE ASSOCIATED PRESS--

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) -- South Florida slogged off the field in the midst of another Rutgers celebration, white and green dots in a sea of red.

The second-ranked Bulls' unexpected ascent into college football's elite had been snarled by a team that's getting good at taking out national title contenders.

Third-string quarterback Andrew DePaola threw a 15-yard touchdown pass off a fake field goal to give the Scarlet Knights the lead in the third quarter and Rutgers also used a fake punt to set up an early field goal in its 30-27 victory Thursday night.

Ray Rice provided a more conventional 181 yards on 39 carries for Rutgers (5-2, 2-1 Big East) and Mike Teel threw two touchdown passes to Tiquan Underwood.

"We just went out there and played our best football," Rice said.

South Florida became the third No. 2 team to lose in the last three weeks.

"I thought we had a chip on our shoulders tonight," Bulls cornerback Trae Williams said. "That we would prove something to the nation. That we are deserving of the ranking. Obviously, we didn't get it done tonight."

The Bulls (6-1, 1-1) had their eight-game winning streak come to an end, no doubt to the delight of Boston College, LSU, Oklahoma and the rest of the teams hoping to grab the second spot in the BCS standings USF held this week.

Matt Grothe threw for 247 yards and a touchdown and ran for 58 yards, but Rutgers' defense swarmed South Florida's multitalented quarterback in the second half and sacked him seven times in the game.

A week after No. 2 California lost to Oregon State and two weeks after then-No. 2 Southern California was upset by Stanford, the Bulls became the 11th Top 10 team to fall to an unranked opponent this season. There are five undefeated teams left in major college football.

"Personally, rankings don't mean that much when you're on the field," Bulls receiver Marcus Edwards said. "All that stuff goes out the window. It comes down to who scores the most points and they scored more than we did tonight."

Rutgers, which started the season ranked 16th but fell out after two straight losses last month, might not be unranked much longer.

Jeremy Ito lined a career-long 51 yard field with 11:59 left in the fourth quarter to give Rutgers a 30-20 lead.

Grothe's gang wasn't done. He led the Bulls on a 70-yard touchdown drive that Mike Ford capped with a 1-yard run with 9:16 left to make it 30-27.

When USF linebacker Ben Moffitt recovered Rice's fumble near midfield with 4:11 left, the Bulls were in business at the Rutgers 40. But Brandon Renkart sacked Grothe on the first play, and the Bulls were forced to punt.

"We had the ball at the 50, down by three and their defense came up to play," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "Give them credit. Give them a lot of credit. They did it twice."

Rutgers was unable to kill the clock and the Bulls got one more shot to keep their perfect season alive, starting at the Rutgers 49.

On the first play, freshman Joe Lefeged came on a safety blitz and sacked Grothe from the blind side. On fourth-and-22, Amarri Jackson caught a pass down the sideline beyond the first down marker, but the play was wiped out by an offensive pass interference call because the receiver pushed off.

The last gasp came on a fourth-and-37 from the Rutgers 24. Grothe heaved a desperation pass into traffic and Rutgers defensive back Zaire Kitchen intercepted.

For the second straight season Rutgers came up with a huge victory on a Thursday night at home. Last year it was then-No. 3 Louisville, at the time the highest ranked opponent Rutgers had ever beaten.

Not anymore. This win set off another party on the field, though not quite as wild as last year's after beating Louisville.

After reaching the rankings for first time in the 11-year history of South Florida football earlier this season, the Bulls shot up the charts behind a quick and hard-hitting defense and Grothe's dynamic playmaking.

In this topsy-turvy season, the Bulls' national title hopes can't quite be put to rest. But they took a major hit.

The Scarlet Knights, last season's surprise team from the Big East, gave their season a much-needed jolt.

With Rutgers up 20-17 midway through the third quarter, Rutgers defensive back Devin McCourty blocked a field goal to preserve the lead.

Rice and Teel responded with a drive that stalled at the USF 15. Ito came out to attempt a 32-yard field goal, but Rutgers coach Greg Schiano had something else in mind.

"We haven't done a lot of that around here," Schiano said. "Thank God it worked."

DePaola, the holder, took the snap and rolled right, barely avoiding a sack, and floated his first career pass into the outstretched arms of Kevin Brock. The tight end scooted into the end zone with 4:09 left in the third to give Rutgers a 27-17 lead.

"We run it in practice a lot," DePaola said. "When they called it I just said, `All right let's go execute it like in practice. It's no different."'

Rutgers used a trick play on its first drive, too.

Ito lined up to punt but instead lofted a perfect pass over a USF defender to James Townsend for a 36-yard gain to the Bulls 13. That set up Ito's 26-yard field goal.

Rutgers scored more points than any team had against USF this season and kept defensive end George Selvie, the nation's leader with 11.5 sacks, away from Teel.

USF hadn't allowed a runner to reach 100 yards in the 14 games since Rice went for 202 in the Scarlet Knights' 22-20 win last year. Rice had 94 at halftime Thursday night.

"When my number's called," Rice said, "I'm going to do whatever it takes."


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