Quarterback Gary Nova completed a 46-yard pass to Tim Wright that set up a Kyle Federico field goal to put Rutgers up 16-13 late in the fourth quarter of their Big East showdown with South Florida Thursday night on their way to a 23-13 victory.
A crowd of 44,219 saw Nova (23-of-42 for 277 yards and a touchdown) have his best game of the season, avoiding interceptions and sacks to overcome ill-disciplined play by the Scarlet Knights, who committed 11 penalties in the game.
Rutgers won with its usual formula, stingy defense and an aggressive ground attack, feeding workhorse Jawan Jamison the ball 41 times for 151 yards and a touchdown. Many of Jamison's best gains were wiped out by penalties, forcing the Knights into difficult passing situations.
"I told him during the week to get ready for 35 (carries)," admitted Rutgers coach Kyle Flood. I did not anticipate 41, but he did an excellent job with it."
The defense—while giving up 337 total yards to USF—surrendered only 13 points and intercepted Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels three times in the game. Through three games, the Rutgers defense has given up a mere 25 points this season.
South Florida opened the scoring when Maikon Bonani hit a 41-yard field goal midway through the first quarter. The Scarlet Knights had a chance to answer, but a bad snap and worse hold by J.T. Tartacoff caused Federico's 42-yard field goal attempt to be blocked.
The Bulls added a second field goal, extending their lead to 6-0 over a Rutgers team whose penalty-riddled performance can only be termed dreadful.
In the second quarter, Nova led the Knights down the field on a spotty 12-play, two-minute drive, leading to Federico's 51-yard field goal, cutting the lead to 6-3 with just 28 seconds left in the half.
In the third quarter, a fumbled punt led to the game's tying field goal, before RU receiver Mark Harrison caught a six-yard touchdown from Nova to give Rutgers its first lead in the game, 13-6.
It appeared that the Knights were taking over the game.
But just as he had done last week against Nevada, B.J. Daniels (15 of 33 for 242 yards) brought the Bulls back, completing a 32-yard pass to Derrick Hopkins after the ball went right through the hands of defensive back Marcus Cooper.
From the one-yard line, running back Demetris Murray pounded the ball over and the game was tied 13-13 with just over nine minutes to play.
That is when the RU formula for success kicked in.
After Federico's third field goal gave RU a 16-13 lead with less than three minutes to play, the Bulls took possession looking to score quickly. After a seven-yard gain on first down and two incompletions, Daniels and the Bulls found themselves faced with a 4th-and-3 situation on their own 42. Under pressure, Daniels saw his fourth-down pass to Terrence Mitchell fall incomplete on the left sideline.
"We were fortunate to hold that team to the points that we did," said Flood. "It was a great effort by our defense."
After the turnover on downs, Rutgers' running game did its part, as Jamison took the ball on a 41-yard TD burst to stake Rutgers to a 23-13 lead, putting the game out of reach.
"What it boiled down to is we turned the ball over," said USF coach Skip Holtz. "We just made too many mistakes to come away with a victory."
Rutgers held the ball for 38:34 in the game and rolled up 424 yards, much of it on the strength of Jamison's running. The Scarlet Knights improved to 3-0 and now have more than a week to prepare for next week's clash with Arkansas.