Preview: Rutgers hosts South Florida on ESPN

The final third of the season begins as Rutgers and No. 23 South Florida meet for a Thursday night affair at Rutgers Stadium. The Bulls can be explosive on offense, so how does Rutgers contain them? Will the Scarlet Knights be able to run the ball? And what about USF defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie? ScarletReport.com has the info, as well as a prediction.

Thursday night on ESPN bodes well for Rutgers, as does its history against South Florida (3-1 mark) and a forecast calling for a 30 percent chance of rain, temperatures is the mid 40s and winds up to 20 miles per hour.

But those are the periphery issues as the Scarlet Knights host the 23rd- ranked Bulls at Rutgers Stadium.

Although neither a Big East conference title nor a BCS berth is on the line, both teams are still in the running for a middle- to upper-tier bowl game if they finish the season strong. Both teams are 6-2, with Rutgers being 1-2 in the league while South Florida sits at 2-2.

Both teams conference losses came to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, although the Scarlet Knights two defeats were at home, and South Florida was blown out on the road by both schools.

No team in the Big East matches the Bulls' athleticism throughout the roster, but no team in the Big East consistently loses head-scratching games more, either.

The teams are also dichotomies – South Florida with its hectic, often undisciplined play against a methodical, conservative Rutgers.

Rutgers offense vs. South Florida defense
George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul. Those are the names everyone seems to talk about in regards to South Florida's defense. They are the bookend defensive ends, who can cause havoc in rushing the quarterback.

That is, unless you know how to block.

In eight games, Pierre-Paul has two sacks. Selvie has three, but is looking for his first sack in his career against Rutgers. Hardly awe-inspiring statistics.

Pittsburgh and Cincinnati had no problem keeping their quarterbacks upright en route to blowout wins, and the Scarlet Knights have done a good job keeping the pressure off freshman quarterback Tom Savage.

Savage is 94 for 168 (56 percent) for 1,341 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. One of the big reasons Savage is not turning the ball over is a lack of pressure from opposing defenses. Rutgers' issues in protecting Savage have come via failed blitz pickups, and that is where South Florida can be the most dangerous.

Middle linebacker Kion Wilson (team-leading 61 tackles) said mid-week Rutgers' offensive line had trouble with blitz pickups, and often seemed confused when confronted with stunts by the defensive line.

So, expect South Florida to blitz Savage, which could mean a lot of running back Kordell Young in the backfield, and force him to make quick decisions rather than allow him time to read through his progressions.

But the Bulls secondary has been victimized by the big play this season, and quality depth is an issue. Right cornerback Jerome Murphy has started at cornerback, safety and nickel back this season. That could create a bonanza for speedy Scarlet Knights receiver Tim Brown, who is eighth in the nation in receiving yards (101.4 ypg) and averaging 21.9 yards per catch.

If Rutgers can muster anything in the running game, it would be helpful, and this could be the game. South Florida traditionally has trouble with power running games, which the Scarlet Knights employ.

Running Joe Martinek
The Bulls have struggled to stop the run this season. South Florida ranks 54th nationally in run defense (130.6 ypg), and the Scarlet Knights are 61st (146.4 ypg) in rushing.

Furthermore, Rutgers is averaging less than three yards per carry in Big East play, and continues to have continuity blocking to create running lanes. Joe Martinek has established himself as Rutgers' top rusher, somewhat by default, as Jourdan Brooks (seven carries in the last three games) has been given little opportunity in games and freshman De'Antwan Williams is still learning how to be an all-round back.

Rutgers defense vs. South Florida offense
Contain B.J. Daniels. Keep him in the pocket, don't move from the pass rush lanes, and for heaven's sake, tackle him when the opportunity presents itself.

Those are things Rutgers defense has been hearing since the glow of the Oct. 31 win at Connecticut dissipated.

It is a little much to compare Daniels, as Rutgers did this week, to the dynamic Michael Vick during his Virginia Tech days, but the message is understood. Daniels leads the team in passing (1,096 yards) and rushing (519 yards).

Yes, Daniels is talented. But he is also young.

And that means anything can happen.

He ran for 104 yards and threw for 232 yards and three touchdowns in a win two weeks ago against West Virginia. And he ran for 50 yards and was 4 of 8 for 54 yards in a blowout loss to Pittsburgh, and was 15 of 32 for 208 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in a 17-point loss to Cincinnati.

History usually serves as a strong indicator, so expect Rutgers strong safety Joe Lefeged to spend lots of quality time near Daniels. Lefeged is the Scarlet Knights' resident spy when it comes to shifty, running quarterbacks. He was successful against Matt Grothe, South Florida's now-injured quarterback, last season, but this time could have a more difficult time.

At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Daniels is a few inches taller and bigger than Grothe, as well as faster. Of course, Lefeged also has the reputation for making big hits, and knocking quarterbacks out of games.

The Bulls will also be without leading receiver Carlton Mitchell, and while there is a stable of athletic receivers South Florida will count on, none have proven to be close to Mitchell's level.

Defensive tackle Blair Bines (48)
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Mitchell's 29 catches is nearly twice as many as South Florida's second-leading receiver Dontavia Bogan (16 catches). Mitchell's 542 yards is more than twice as many as any other Bull, and he had six receptions of 49 yards or more.

No doubt South Florida would have tried to match Mitchell up with Rutgers sophomore cornerback David Rowe as much as possible, but that is no longer an issue.

South Florida runs out of the spread option as Daniels reads the defense and either sticks the ball in the gut of running back Moise Plancher (385 yards, four TDs) or keeps it himself to run. It means Rutgers linebackers, particularly Ryan D'Imperio in the middle, will have to be ready for runs through the middle before he tries to track down Daniels on the outside.

Special teams
South Florida kicker Eric Schwartz is 6 of 9 since getting the job early in the season, but is 2 for 4 between 30 to 39 yards. Five of punter Delbert Alvarado's 23 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line and the Bulls' longest kick return is 40 yards.

Conversely, Rutgers kicker San San Te is 11 of 17 on field goals, and has missed from 30, 32 and 24 yards this season. Teddy Dellaganna has punted 41 times, with 17 being down inside the 20-yard line.

After a dismal first half in the return game, Rutgers has excelled the last two weeks, capped with Devin McCourty's 98-yard kickoff return against Connecticut.

Of course, the Scarlet Knights also gave up two big returns against UConn, including a 100-yard return.

Prediction: Rutgers 27, South Florida 24


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