Needless to say, the first quarter did not get off to the start that Coach Schiano, the players, or fans had envisioned. With a three game winning streak, a realistic opportunity at a Gator Bowl birth, and the fact that USF had not played in nearly a month, I fully expected RU to come out the tunnel fired up before opening up a big can of whoop a** on South Florida. The first thing that concerned me was the ease at which USF was running off tackle against our defense. This was surprising considering how well the RU defense had been playing of late. After jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead, the USF defense apparently energized by its offense, asserted itself by forcing two RU turnovers leading directly to 14 points. The first on a interception return for a TD after a Ryan Hart to Shawn Tucker pass was tipped by Tucker and fell into the hands of a USF defender. RU would have dodged the proverbial bullet on this one if the officials had not ruled that Hart's pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, thereby negating the pass interference that had been called on the play. The second defensive TD occurred when Hart fumbled after being drilled for a sack. With the score now 21-0 in favor of USF, there still seemed to be a calmness on the RU sideline. In years past, if this happened, RU might have went into the tank, however, I sensed a confidence in the RU players, who seemed to feel that if they just played their game that victory was still in their grasp.
As the second quarter began the RU offense led by Ray Rice, the very talented freshman running back began to roll. Rice consistently picked up huge chunks of yardage against the USF defense. RU finished off the impressive drive with a pass from Hart to Mr. Reliable, Brian Leonard. I am sure I speak for many RU faithful when I say that Brian Leonard is one of the most complete and versatile players in all of college football. It has truly been a pleasure to watch him perform over the years, I only hope he can resist the temptations of NFL millions and decides to return for his senior year. After USF scored again making the score 28-7, RU answered again on a Hart to Tres Moses hook up. Moses, RU all time receptions leader, is a very talented player who has consistently demonstrated the ability to make the clutch catch during his time on the Banks. The first half scoring ended after USF kicked a short field goal to make he score 31-14. The final three points of the half led to some scrutiny by the Monday morning quarterbacks of the world, specifically the media who questioned Schiano's decision to decline the 5 yard delay of game penalty against USF who was apparently trying to give their punter a little more room to play with before punting the ball from the RU 33 yard line. Schiano inexplicably declined the penalty and as a result USF decided to go for the 4th and 1, which they eventually converted. Now although I don't agree with Coach Schiano's decision, that decision was not the reason why RU lost the game. RU's six to zero loss in turnover margin was the real reason for the defeat. After the game, Schiano took responsibility for his ill-advised decision, which is enough for me. Coach Schiano and his players have made great strides over the years and they deserve our support.
In the third quarter the RU defense was still having trouble stopping the USF option. One problem I noticed was that when the defensive ends were being double teamed that the LB's were not coming up to make the tackle after the quarterback pitched the ball. Chenry Lewis, RU's very talented young LB seemed to struggle with this all day. The fourth quarter ended with USF leading 37-24 after Leonard scored again on a one yard run.
The fourth quarter went pretty much the same way the first three quarters went with RU making some big plays on offense but not enough to overcome the 21-0 hole that the team dug itself. The offense continued to turn the ball over far too many times to beat a quality opponent such as USF. Two fourth quarter interceptions, one apiece for Hart and Mike Teel, plus one more fumble by Hart sealed the win for USF. Although the defense continued to struggle trying to stop the USF running game the defensive unit still battled and kept RU within striking distance after a blocked field goal attempt by Ron Girault and Corey Barnes, both two very talented DB's for RU.
Outlook for the Remainder of the Season
Although I am disappointed with the loss to USF, I am still very opportunistic about the rest of the season. I believe that RU has an excellent chance at going to Louisville and upsetting the Cardinals in their own back yard in front of a national TV audience on ESPN, thereby solidifying an Insight.Com Bowl appearance. The final game of the season pitting RU versus Cincinnati will provide RU with the opportunity to finish the regular season at 8-3. I expect RU to seize this opportunity because under Greg Schiano's leadership these kids now expect to win rather than simply hoping too. One more final point, It was disappointing to look up in the stands at the start of the USF game and see so many empty seats. Over the years, I have listened to fans give excuse after excuse about why they don't attend Rutgers games. Most of those excuses have been because they claim that the team just isn't any good. With this team on the verge of doing something that hasn't been done in many years around here I expect to see the stadium filled to capacity at the Cincinnati game. These young men who bust their tails for our great university deserve that from us.
Jason Curry signing out.