Analysis: Why Rutgers was able to beat USF
We'll have a lot more aftermath on Thursday's loss and what it does to USF's position in the rankings and in the wide-open Big East standings. The close margin made it an especially tough loss for USF fans, but looking over the game as a whole, did the Bulls play well enough in comparison to Rutgers to deserve to win the game? Consider all the aspects of the game, and with the exception of quarterback, it’s hard to find an area where USF outplayed Rutgers:
RUNNING BACK: Not even close. Ray Rice goes for 189 yards, his only blemish a dangerous fumble with four minutes to play. Again, look at third downs: of USF’s 14 third downs, only one needed 5 yards or less for a first down. Rutgers, which went 6-for-16 on third downs, had seven third downs needing 5 yards or less, three more needing 6 yards. That points to consistently getting yards on first and second downs.
And for all the fakes, for me the game’s signature play was when Rice, running around the left side, pancaked USF defensive end George Selvie, knocking him on his back. It was a powerful statement, even on a night where Selvie suffered a back injury early and was held without a sack or a tackle for loss.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Tiquan Underwood’s 69-yard touchdown was a huge play, literally bouncing off a Tyrone McKenzie hit and then outracing USF’s secondary to the end zone. USF’s receivers? Taurus Johnson was hurt, but Amarri Jackson had at least two drops and was flagged for offensive pass interference on the final drive. Dontavia Bogan and Marcus Edwards had their best games of the season, but Underwood had more yards than the two of them combined.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Rutgers, facing a defense leading the nation in tackles for loss, gave up one sack, and lost a total of 14 yards on plays behind the line of scrimmage. Matt Grothe lost 16 on one sack. USF had allowed eight sacks in six games coming in, and gave up seven against Rutgers, and yes, five of those came after Walt Walker hurt his knee. Grothe needs to be aware of when he’s facing a defense too fast for him to scramble out of trouble; I can’t recall a single instance where he threw the ball away to avoid a sack. Instead, he has 60 yards lost on sacks, including costly losses on first down on USF’s last two drives.
CLOCK MANAGEMENT: A clear edge to Rutgers. Much like Grothe did last week against UCF, Mike Teel looked his best at the end of the first half. With 1:03 left and no time outs, starting from his 29, he calmly led Rutgers into range for a 40-yard Jeremy Ito field goal, the start of 17 straight points for the Knights.
Grothe, starting on the Rutgers 49 with 1:33 and needing maybe 20 yards for a reasonable field goal to force overtime, looked flustered. Again, a bad sack to lose 12 yards when throwing the ball away would both stop the clock and not cost valuable field position. Then, facing second-and-22 from USF’s 39, Grothe made a poor – in hindsight, wrong -- decision to spike the ball with 1:11 left. It isn’t only his decision by any means, but there shouldn’t have been such a hurry; the play after the spike was another incompletion, setting a difficult fourth-and-22. In short, he didn’t throw the ball away when he should have, then he chose an incompletion when he didn’t need to.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Rutgers' two fakes may be the best-executed plays I’ve seen all season. Watch Jeremy Ito on the fake punt: he takes the snap, doesn’t read anything, just stands and throws a pass to a spot on the field, where James Townsend was waiting for it. USF’s Tyller Roberts was trailing Townsend downfield, but the play happened so quickly there wasn’t time to warn him.
Same thing with the fake field goal. Rutgers had gotten a 33-yard Ray Rice run, and settling for three points would have cost some momentum and kept USF within a touchdown at 23-17. So holder Andrew DePaola, a walk-on quarterback, grabs the snap and rolls out. USF defended the play well, with speedy cornerback Dylan Douglas getting both arms around DePaola’s legs. Leavitt, too, was impressed the kid got the throw off, and tight end Kevin Brock was in great position to catch and score. Two great plays, one setting up a field goal and the other giving the Knights seven instead of three.
USF, meanwhile, missed a field goal and had another blocked. Recovering two muffs was strong, but more of a case of being in the right place when Rutgers made a mistake. Consider the fourth quarter: Ryan Gilliam gets a personal foul for tackling after a fair catch, then another for a late hit on a return. With three minutes to go, Gilliam couldn’t down a Delbert Alvarado punt inside the 20, settling for a touchback at a time when field position was of greatest importance. Rutgers, doing a great job with low, bouncing punts, had downed its last punt on the USF 3-yard line.
Keep those comments coming, and I'll try to answer questions later tonight ...
(Times photo - Ted McLaren. Click to enlarge.)