TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 13: Quarterback Gary Nova #15 of Rutgers Scarlet Knights looks to pass against the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium September 13, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
There are few certainties in life - death, taxes, and USF playing bad on a Thursday night are among them. Observers may have been hesitant about adding Rutgers's singular dominance over USF in football to that list with how the offense looked during the first few weeks, but after last night, needless to say that the critics (myself) included owe the coaching staff a temporary reprieve. That game was proof positive that they were keeping quite a bit under wraps against two undermatched opponents. As for the dwindling number of Chas Dodd partisans? It's time to give up the ghost. Like Mike Teel before him, Gary Nova is entrenched as the Rutgers starting QB. In fact, last night Nova showed far more poise than Teel did early in 2006 for anyone still banging the drum on that comparison. It was by no means a perfect performance, but Nova was profoundly poised on third down, and was able to successfully recapture his 2011 performances while cutting down on critical mistakes.
Certainly any great performance requires a bit of help, and receiver Tim Wright was slanting (hooray!) the Bulls to death before exploding for a big play late in the fourth quarter that helped seal the victory. Nova spread the ball around, targeting D.C. Jefferson in the seam (double hooray, although boo on the continued stupid penalties), and Mark Harrison returned with USF focusing so hard on Brandon Coleman. The lion's share of the credit goes to the offensive line though, who looked fantastic despite dealing with multiple injuries. They committed too many pointless penalties (a theme on the night all around), but were phenomenal in pass protection, and looked mostly strong in run blocking. Jawan Jamison had holes to run through early; it seemed like he tired a bit in the second half with no Savon Huggins to spell him. However, all of those runs combined to wear down the USF defense, and then Jamison iced everything with a Ray Rice-style dagger to the heart of all of USF's hopes for a comeback.
Defensively, it wasn't your typical Rutgers performance in the sense that B.J. Daniels is such a boom or bust player. He'll follow up horrific miscues with 50 yard bombs down the field. What was mind-blowing last night were that a few of his interceptions actually deflected off the hands of USF receivers, and a few of his big plays should have been picks by Marcus Cooper. He should have been picked in a tie that went to the receiver, and then caught a bad break when RU arguably got away with dropping an interception. Daniels is a handful in the pocket, which limited the opportunities for sacks and tackles for loss, but the defense did a great job of shutting down traditional runs at the line of scrimmage. Daniels didn't kiss the turf much, but against a mobile QB, you're worried more about speeding up his delivery and forcing him into mistakes. There's not a direct relationship between pressure and sacks or TFLs. Overall, the team played well; as per usual, there were a few breakdowns on deep balls, a few holes in the zone, but Daniels has a tendency to do that.
This definitely was a sloppy effort from both teams, although there's a danger in creating an equivalency there. RU's errors were mostly unforced, with a few bad breaks like the refs missing the helmet to helmet hit on when Mason Robinson fumbled a punt, or J.T. Tartacoff's finger exploding when trying to hold the ball. I'd argue that USF's errors (specifically, Daniels's plethora of mistakes) were partly inherent to Daniels, and partly forced by the Rutgers defense. Rutgers could have surely put this away on multiple occasions, but kept leaving room for USF to crawl back in until near the end. They left points on the board, signifying how much polish still is needed, but the fundamental story of the game should be that Rutgers won on pure execution and talent. They were good enough to overcome the miscues, and had a gameplan that made sense (I still can't fathom why USF would be so willing to let their defense suffer by not draining more time of possession.) Given the TOP and touchdown disparities, Rutgers should have won by a lot more, and are capable of more if they are able to keep improving.
I'd rather see a game like this than one where Rutgers can't move the ball at all but gets by with a bunch of flukey turnovers and special teams wins. Over time, that's not sustainable. Mistakes are correctable in short order; talent is not. It was by no means a master piece, but if Rutgers plays like this in Fayetteville, they could easily keep it respectable with a top SEC team. With Tyler Wilson injured and John L. Smith already wrecking havoc, suddenly the prospects for a decided unkosher pig roast are growing bright by the day. Regardless, Rutgers is clearly in the top tier of the Big East with Louisville and possibly Cincinnati. It should be a fun season for sure.
- The red zone clearly remains an issue; the Jamison run before the last FG was a little questionable to say the least. I continue to be exasperated by the over reliance on low-percentage throws down the sideline, but do understand their importance in opening up things for the rest of the offense. That Harrison TD pass is an example of what I'd like to see more; go inside, go over the middle, it was working and it will keep working.
- The OL is officially back. (Insert requisite angry rant against Kirk Ciarrocca here.) Wrobs (or should it be Wrobocop? We have to decide on this.) was a nice find by Kyle Flood. KC clearly deserves the majority of the blame for the OL tanking in 2009 and 2010, although it's not a surprise to see a talent infusion leading to better play as well. Flood clearly knows his OL technique, he might have just been a little to quick to go after sleeper prospects the past few years. Hence, some of the misgivings about this upcoming class...
- That 52-yard field goal from Kyle Federico was terrific. Justin Doerner's punting? Not so much.
- We kept trying to get the ball to Brandon Coleman matched up against George Baker, and it just barelyyyyy missed a bunch of times.
- Logan Ryan was beat a few times by Andre Davis, but mostly kept him in check. By the way, does anyone know what the deal was with RU supposedly cooling on Davis as a recruit a couple years ago? It could have just been depth chart issues, thanks to the overwhelming glut of receivers RU had as part of the ill-timed spread experiment.
- That center who tried to injure Scott Vallone needs to be suspended. That was straight out of the Jim Leavitt-era playbook, when USF would pile on the late hits after every play.
- USF deserves to suffer in perpetuity if only for sticking with the Gold helmet/pants combination over the clearly and infinitely superior whites.
- Michael Burton, my man. Every time he touches the ball good things happen.
- As said above, this was one of D.C. Jefferson's better games. Just wish he and Kaleb Johnson would quit it with the stupid mistakes.
- Please stay healthy Betim Bujari, you are awesome.
- Flood showed a lot of moxie in daring USF to try to convert on 4th and 3 late in the fourth quarter instead of pushing them back further for a third and long. The results proved him right. More questionable was running Jamison late when the game has already been decided; not doing that in garbage time against Tulane and Howard was a pleasant change from the past few years. Record or no, we're going to need those carries from Jawan later in the season, and can't well risk his health with Huggins and Paul James already hurting.