Preview: Rutgers-USF

After starting the season 0-3 and 1-5, Rutgers (4-5, 3-2 Big East) is on a three-game winning streak for the first time since opening the 2007 season with a 3-0 mark. The Scarlet Knights trounced Syracuse 35-17 to get above .500 in the Big East. This week RU faces South Florida (6-3, 1-3), a team looking to get back on track after a rough October.


Kickoff is slated for noon Eastern Time at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, and the game will be broadcast in the New Jersey area on SNY as part of the Big East Game of the Week package. John Gleason and John Congemi will handle play-by-play duties and Quint Kessenich is scheduled to be the sideline reporter.


For the second straight season, USF got off to a hot start in September only to be derailed in October. The Bulls won their first five, including a battle of two ranked teams when they beat Kansas 37-34 on a Friday night in Tampa on Sept. 12. USF, ranked as high as No. 10 this year, has lost three out of four in Big East play and its last two contests.

The Bulls have been off since losing 24-13 Oct. 30 at Cincinnati, a game that knocked them out of the Top 25 for the first time this season.


Junior quarterback Matt Grothe is a double threat who can hurt teams with his arm or his legs in the spread offense. Rutgers has trouble solving the elusive signal caller, as Grothe has averaged 244 yards passing and 59.5 yards rushing with two passing and three rushing touchdowns. However, the Scarlet Knights have been able to pick Grothe off in key situations. Zaire Kitchen ended USF's final drive in last year's 30-27 RU victory with an interception on fourth down and 37, and Rutgers converted a pair on interceptions into 10 points during a 22-20 Scarlet Knights win in Tampa two years ago.

This season Grothe leads the Big East with 268.1 total yards per game. He is completing 64.1 percent of his passes and averages 230 yards per game through the air with 14 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He leads the team with 343 rushing yards and has scored three touchdowns on the ground.

One issue with USF's loss at Cincinnati two weeks ago was injuries. Running back Mike Ford was among key players out for the Thursday night affair (running back Jamar Taylor and linebacker Brouce Mompremier were the others), though he should return for this contest.

Taurus Johnson, Jessie Hester and A.J. Love have combined for 92 catches for 1,113 yards and nine touchdowns. Johnson leads the bunch with four TD receptions and 45.4 yards per game receiving.

USF has the top-ranked scoring offense in the conference (30.89 points per game), the best total offense (418 yards per game) and the second-ranked passing offense in the Big East (245.6 ypg). The Bulls face a Rutgers pass defense that is ranked No. 1 in the Big East (179.9 ypg) but sixth in overall defense (327.3 ypg) and seventh in rushing defense (147.4).


Junior defensive end George Selvie's numbers are down this year compared to last season's 15 1/2-sack, 59-tackle performance, but much of that can be attributed to teams avoiding the All-American in addition to an ankle injury that has slowed him. However, Selvie leads the Bulls with five sacks and 11 tackles for loss among his 35 total tackles this season.

Senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie leads the team with 71 total tackles, and he has one interception and eight pass breakups this year. Junior cornerback Jerome Murphy, part of one of the top defensive backfields in the conference, has two interceptions and is second on the team with 51 total tackles.

USF has limited opposing teams to 282.4 yards total per game and has been able to hold other teams to 19 points per game. Jim Leavitt's club owns the fifth-best rushing defense in the nation at 85.2 yards against per game. However, the Bulls have allowed 24.7 points per game against and 364.3 yards against in their three Big East losses - including 281 yards passing to Cincinnati on Oct. 30. RU has heated up in recent weeks and now owns the conference's third overall passing offense with 232.9 yards per game.


USF replaced erratic place-kicker Delbert Alvarado with Maikon Bonani, and the freshman paid immediate dividends when he kicked the game-winning field goal in his debut during a 37-34 win over Kansas on Sept. 12. Bonani has made 11 of 15 field goal attempts and his last four tries.

Alvarado continues to handle punting duties, and he averages 40.7 yards per punt this season.


Rutgers owns a 2-1 advantage in the series after capturing the last two meetings between the schools. USF rolled into Rutgers Stadium ranked No. 2 with a 6-0 record last Oct. 18 and came away with a 30-27 defeat that sparked a three-game losing streak. During the only game between the teams at Raymond James Stadium - in 2006 - Rutgers entered the Sept. 29 ranked No. 23 and escaped with a 22-20 win.


With the victory over Syracuse last week, Rutgers notched its first win off a bye week since 2006. . . . . There are 16 Floridians on Rutgers' roster this season. . . . Junior receiver Andrew DePaola, who doubles as RU's holder on special teams, completed his only pass of 2007 when he connected with Kevin Brock on a 15-yard pass off a fake kick in the win against USF. That play put Rutgers ahead 27-17 and was instrumental in the victory. . . . In two starts against USF, fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Teel is 22-for-49 with 279 yards and two touchdowns. RU relied heavily on standout running back Ray Rice in the last two matchups.

South Florida is trying to avoid hitting a three-game skid two years in a row. The Bulls lost two more after being defeated at Rutgers last season. . . . Head coach Jim Leavitt has been with USF since day 1, guiding the Bulls from creation to a start in Division I-AA before making the transition to Division I-A and the Big East Conference. He is 13-12 since USF joined the Big East. . . . The Bulls are on pace to set a new school record for offensive yards in a season. . . . USF has outscored opponents 69-7 in the third quarter this season. . . . Despite a 5-0 start, USF is currently seventh in the Big East with a 1-3 conference mark.


It'll be a hot and steamy one approaching 80 degrees on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Look for a shower sometime in the afternoon.

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