10 Things We Learned: Rutgers - USF

After starting the season 1-5, Rutgers (5-5, 4-2 Big East) has won four straight and is in position to become bowl eligible with another win next Saturday. The Scarlet Knights reached .500 for the first time this year with a 49-16 trouncing at South Florida (6-4, 1-4), a team headed in the opposite direction. It's time to view an upbeat 10 Things We Learned Last Week.

1. The McCourty twins step up against USF. RU was locked in a battle at South Florida in 2006, but Jason McCourty sealed a 22-20 victory when he batted away a 2-point conversion pass with 15 seconds remaining in the game. Last year in Piscataway, Devin McCourty blocked a USF field goal attempt that would have tied the score at 20 midway through the third quarter. RU turned that into a touchdown and a 10-point lead. This season Jason was at it again, earning Big East Defensive Player of the Week honors after recovering one fumble and intercepting two passes, including a 30-yard touchdown return. Jason also set up the Scarlet Knights' third touchdown with a 59-yard kickoff return late in the second quarter.

2. RU is able to finish drives. Early in the season, a large contributing factor to the Scarlet Knights' struggles was their inability to put the ball in the end zone. While getting out to a 1-5 start, RU scored on 80 percent of its trips inside the red zone but only came away with 12 touchdowns on 20 possessions. During their four-game winning streak the Scarlet Knights have scored on 13 of 15 red zone trips, scoring 12 touchdowns (80 percent TD rate). That's the big difference between winning and losing.

3. Kenny Britt is getting noticed. Rutgers fans have known for a long time that Britt is a special talent at wide receiver, but other sources are starting to officially recognize him. After posting 173 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions in the win over USF, Britt was named Big East Offensive Player of the Week. He also had a couple of end around runs that did not yield much success, but it showed that RU values getting him touches. Britt, who is first in the Big East and third nationally with 110.4 receiving yards per game, passed Tres Moses to become Rutgers' all-time leader in receiving yards during the game and now has 2,666 yards for his career.

4. A new week means a new running back making his mark. Joe Martinek finished two yards shy of becoming the third Rutgers running back to register 100 yards when he ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries against USF. Kordell Young (514 yards and five touchdowns on 131 carries this season) still appears to be the No. 1 running back for Rutgers, but Martinek has run for 149 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games.

5. RU's defense continues to do the job on the scoreboard. After yielding an average of 27.8 points per game to their first four Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) opponents this season, the Scarlet Knights allowed only one team to score at least 20 points over their last five outings (a 54-34 decision against Pittsburgh). The defense has held opponents to 16.6 points per game over that stretch (Syracuse scored a special teams touchdown).

6. Rutgers is winning the all-important third quarter. RU was outscored 52-0 in the third quarter of its first five games while posting a 1-4 record. The Scarlet Knights have outscored opponents in 61-19 during the ensuing five games while notching a 4-1 mark. During the current four-game winning streak, the Knights own a 51-16 advantage in the third period.

7. USF is in a tailspin. The Bulls have now lost three straight and four of their last five after starting the season 5-0 and rising to No. 10 in the national rankings. It's not out of the question to think USF finishes the season 6-6 with a home game against UConn looming this Sunday followed by a road contest at West Virginia Dec. 6.

8. Sometimes you're the dog, sometimes you're the bone. It's a story of dichotomies when looking at RU's series records versus most Big East opponents. The Scarlet Knights are a combined 11-1 versus USF, Pittsburgh and Syracuse the last four seasons but are 1-7 against West Virginia and Cincinnati during that same span.

9. Mike Teel continues to spread the wealth. RU's fifth-year signal caller threw a touchdown pass to his sixth different receiver this year when he hit tight end Shamar Graves on a scoring play against USF. In the past three games Teel is 58-for-86 (67.4 percent) passing for 931 yards (310.3 average) with 12 touchdowns to five interceptions. They aren't Heisman Trophy numbers, but they're a lot better than Teel's numbers through RU's first three games (58.6 percent completions, 212.3 yards per game average, one touchdown to six interceptions).

10. RU is alive for the postseason. RU started the season 1-5 and 0-2 in the Big East, and many (including this writer) dismissed the season as over. Now the Scarlet Knights are in line to become bowl eligible with a probable win against Army Nov. 22. That might be enough to get them into the postseason, especially if USF and Louisville continue to drop. Considering the quick turnaround time between the end of the season and the first bowl games, bids may start going out right after Thanksgiving.

The game was over when . . . Graves took a pass from Teel at the 10-yard line and rumbled into the end zone for a 28-yard score to give RU a 35-16 lead with 26 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The Scarlet Knights would tack on two more touchdowns for good measure, but the Graves score was the point where USF fans headed for the exits.

Post mortem: Raise your hand if you thought RU would defeat USF by more than 30 points. The score was jarring considering the history between these schools (combined five-point margin of victory for RU in 2006 and '07), but RU has been clicking on all cylinders the last four games. The Scarlet Knights -- who finished the season 3-3 on the road after a rough 0-3 start -- should continue their winning ways at home against Army this week, setting up a pivotal showdown against Louisville Dec. 4.


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