In one of the most dominating defensive games against a BCS school during coach Greg Schiano's nine years, the Scarlet Knights gained bowl eligibility by suffocating No. 23 South Florida's offense en route to a stunningly easy 31-0 dismantling of the Bulls in front of 48,057 Thursday at Rutgers Stadium.
En route to gaining bowl eligibility for a fifth straight season, the Scarlet Knights (7-2, 2-2 Big East) shutout in a Big East opponent for the first time since a 62-0 pasting of Temple in 1993.
The Bulls (6-3, 2-3) were limited to seven first downs and 159 yards of total offense. South Florida also turned the ball over four times, including two interceptions and a fumble by red-shirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels, as a swarming defense frustrated the Bulls throughout and registered seven sacks.
It was also the first time South Florida was shut out in a regular season game. The Bulls were blanked by North Carolina State 14-0 in the 2005 Meineke Bowl.
"That was a heckuva effort by those kids downstairs,'' said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who is .500 (52-52) in his Rutgers career for the first time since he was 1-1. "I'm really proud of the way they prepared, and the way they played. They went after this thing with tremendous focus and I think earned the right to be confident going into the game. They played very well.''
Schiano said he was pleased with the bowl eligibility streak continuing, but the players said it was not a focus.
"I don't even think about it because we have three more games to go to get to a bigger bowl,'' said Rutgers senior defensive end George Johnson, who had two sacks. "I'm just thinking about Syracuse next.''
Scarlet Knights running back Joe Martinek had a big second half, rushing for 103 of his 128 yards as Rutgers pulled away, but it was the defense that made the biggest impression.
"We got dominated,'' USFcoach Jim Leavitt said. "Our offense got dominated by their defense.''
Rutgers, which scored on its first possession, didn't capitalize on the plethora of turnovers, scoring just three points off them.
It wasn't until the Scarlet Knights also got a 26-yard field goal by San San Te after Devin McCourty's blocked punt late in the second quarter Rutgers pushed its lead to 13-0, but at halftime Rutgers had to expel negative thoughts of wasted chances.
"When you have as many opportunities as we did in the first half, you kind of are a little concerned sometimes,'' Schiano said. "That's what I'm so proud of our team for. They didn't judge it on …sometimes you go into that locker room and it's, ‘Oh, man, it really went our way and we're only up 13-0.'
"Our guys didn't think, judge. That's something we're working very hard on, to handle what's in front of you right now. I'm very proud they were able to do that coming out in the second half.''
A blitzing Rutgers defense harassed and confused Daniels, who was South Florida's leading passer and rusher, but was a non-factor. Daniels was 7 of 17 for 129 yards throwing the ball, and held to 11 yards on 16 carries.
"We had some new things that we threw at him,'' Schiano said. "Our kids were able to learn it and execute it. It's all them.''
With South Florida's defensive concentrating on stopping Brown in the passing game, Sanu took advantage early and was an integral member of the passing game.
He caught a pass along the left sideline, dodged a tackle and raced into the end zone to give the Scarlet Knights a 7-0 lead just 4:12 into the contest.
An interception by Brandon Jones on USF's next possession resulted in Te's 36-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead, but then the offense bogged down. The Bulls turned the ball over three more times in the half, but Rutgers was unable to score any points off it.
It wasn't until McCourty's sixth career blocked punt that Rutgers was able to increase to its lead as Te made his second of three field goals.
"I guess I have some physical abilities that I'm able to get in there,'' McCourty said. "I just execute it. Great schemes.''
The Scarlet Knights offense found some rhythm in the second half when Savage led a five-play, 59-yard drive to make it 21-0. He capped it by hitting Tim Brown in the right corner of the end zone with 7:05 left in the third quarter.
"He's such a great talent. He's so fast,'' Savage said. "knew man-to-man was a mismatch.''
Martinek capped off the blowout win with a 37-yard touchdown run around the left side with 12:30 left as Rutgers went up 31-0.