100 Grand: Bulls hold off Rutgers, 28-27
TAMPA – Skip Holtz is developing a penchant for ending losing streaks with Big East rivals in his short tenure as USF’s head coach.
For the second time in two weeks, the Bulls ended a four-game losing streak, this time outdueling nemesis Rutgers in a 28-27 thriller at Raymond James Stadium for the program’s 100th all-time victory.
The Bulls (5-3, 2-2 in Big East) got a strong night from running back Mo Plancher, two touchdowns from B.J. Daniels, and considerable luck, with the winning touchdown scored when tackle Jake Sims recovered a Plancher fumble in the end zone.
USF’s defense -- which held Rutgers to 237 total yards -- stepped up in the end, with senior linebacker Jacquian Williams blitzing for a sack of Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd on fourth and 3 from the USF 41 with 3:47 remaining. The offense moved the chains until 36 seconds remained, and Rutgers' final drive ended at its 36-yard line, to the delight of an announced crowd of 39,465.
Rutgers (4-4, 1-2) hadn’t just beaten the Bulls four straight times – the Scarlet Knights drubbed USF 49-16 two years ago, then handed them a humbling 31-0 shutout last season. As they did at Cincinnati 11 days earlier, the Bulls ended the streak in exciting fashion.
When Sims got the rare lineman touchdown to put the Bulls ahead, it was the second time Plancher was saved by a teammate deep in Rutgers territory – receiver Evan Landi recovered another fumble at the 7-yard line, setting up an earlier touchdown.
The touchdown was set up by a 31-yard pass from Daniels to tight end Andreas Shields, then a 21-yard burst by Plancher, who had a career-high 135 yards on 21 carries.
The lucky breaks continued for the Bulls in the fourth quarter, as freshman Terrence Mitchell muffed a Rutgers punt, only to have teammate Kayvon Webster fall on the loose ball at the USF 15, avoiding potential disaster with a 1-point lead.
USF’s defense took the momentum late in the third quarter, when linebacker DeDe Lattimore had a sack, then a tackle for loss deep in Rutgers territory, backing the Knights up to a third-and-21 from their 4. On the next play, defensive tackle Keith McCaskill tackled Kordell Young in the end zone for a safety, cutting the lead to 24-22.
But on the ensuing drive, B.J. Daniels was intercepted by Justin Francis – the game’s first turnover – to set Rutgers up on the USF 42. The defense held the Scarlet Knights to a 30-yard field goal and a 27-22 lead, staying within a touchdown with 12 minutes remaining. USF’s offense would strike on its next drive, led by Plancher.
Mitchell got USF going with a 47-yard punt return to the Rutgers 20-yard line. On third and goal, Daniels scrambled to his left and found receiver Evan Landi for a 4-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Rutgers answered with its own punt return, as Mason Robinson took a Justin Brockhaus-Kann punt and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. USF’s coverage team overran the kick, with five players actually behind Robinson when he fielded the punt, as if expecting a fair catch. Robinson went untouched to tie the game 7-7. After Rutgers took a 10-7 lead, Daniels struck again on third and goal, connecting with receiver Dontavia Bogan for a 6-yard score and 14-10 lead.
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who beat USF in 2007 with a fake field goal and fake punt, struck for a trick play again, with a lateral to receiver Mohamed Sanu, who threw to a wide-open Mark Harrison for a 21-yard touchdown and 17-14 lead in the second quarter. USF tied the game just before halftime on a 48-yard field goal by Maikon Bonani.
USF had lost four straight to Rutgers, but the Bulls were favored at home after getting a 38-30 win at Cincinnati 11 days earlier – Rutgers was coming off a 41-21 loss to Big East-leading Pittsburgh.