"It's not by coincidence," Rutgers football head coach Greg Schiano told reporters at his weekly press conference Monday. "It's two programs that have been playing some pretty good football over the last couple of years. The way the Big East is structured you usually play your conference games later in the year. So it usually boils down to something, but as I've said they're a very, very good football team."
From a 5-0 start, the Bulls have recently struggled, with losses in three of their last four games. With a 6-3 record, yet 1-3 in the Big East, South Florida holds little room for mistakes.
In the meantime, Rutgers' slow start has seemingly evaporated. Winners of three straight, the Knights are 4-5, but a more respectable 3-2 in the conference.
Despite the recent swings, Schiano will not take the Bulls lightly.
"It's hard to put a finger on it," he said of South Florida's recent woes. "Certainly they had an opportunity to win all those games. They've had a couple guys bumped up, so that could be a factor as well. But I know this football team very well. They're very talented and they're going to be well-rested."
Last season, Rutgers upset No. 2 South Florida 30-27 in "Pandemonium in Piscataway II," ending the Bulls' national title hopes; the Knights extended their undefeated campaign in the 2006 matchup with a 22-20 decision at Raymond James Stadium.
Schiano has orchestrated a successful method to contain George Selvie. The fourth-year junior defensive end has managed just five tackles and zero sacks in the last two meetings, coincidentally, both victories by Rutgers.
"It's a big challenge. He's one of the best pass rushers in the country," Schiano said. "So I think it's a huge challenge. There are certain things we can do to help our guys but in the end you just have to block him. We need to be very aware of where he is at all times."
On the offensive side, Matt Grothe handles the quarterbacking responsibilities. An elusive signal caller, he presents another challenge to Rutgers' much improved defense.
"He's one of those guys that coaches always say you're not going to stop him, you just try to contain him," Schiano said. "He's one of those guys for sure. He does some things on video where you sit there and (say) ‘you've got to be kidding me.' He's made people look silly at times scrambling around and you've got to have some way to try to keep him boxed in, which is very hard to do."
Schiano said the team needs to first and foremost prepare for Grothe, who has completed 43 passing touchdowns and rushed for 1,837 yards in his career, and Selvie, who has earned 25 career sacks and 58.5 tackles for a loss.
"I think Matt Grothe and George Selvie are two of the best players in this league, maybe in the country," he said. "It starts there. They're unique players, very, very top-echelon in the country."
Furthermore, while the weather here has slowly dipped into the 50s and 40s, Tampa meteorologists forecast an 80-degree kickoff.
"And then going down there in the time of year where we're maybe not acclimated to the weather, the forecast is supposed to be in the 80s I think," Schiano said.
For an experienced coach like Schiano, who has previously worked in both conditions, he knows it may take more than mental toughness to acclimate.
"I think the temperature can affect your body in a bigger way going from cool to heat because you get gassed," he said. "I think when you have a mentally-tough football team… But if you go down there, you can't just block it out. Your body sweats, you dehydrate."
The unfavorable conditions reminded Schiano of the earlier portion of the season.
"I think we need to make sure we take care of all of our little that we do, like we do early in the season, to make sure we're hydrated," he said. "Because that's all you can do and then you can go play."
Grothe, Selvie & Weather will be a Challenge
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