Bulls, up 14 in 4th, collapse in OT loss at Rutgers
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- In so many ways -- emotionally, statistically, historically -- USF has never lost the way it lost Saturday night.
In 15 years of football, the Bulls had never lost four in a row. In eight previous overtime games, the Bulls had somehow always escaped with victory. And armed with a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Bulls never known the hollow feeling of loss they felt when Rutgers rallied in the final eight minutes for a 20-17 overtime victory at High Point Solutions Stadium.
"The losses are almost unbearable to go through as a team," said kicker Maikon Bonani, who missed a potential game-winner from 27 yards as time expired. "It's my job to put it through the uprights. I had an opportunity to win the game and I didn't. That solely rests on my shoulders. There are a bunch of plays in a football game, but for that one play, it's my responsibility to do my job, and I failed to do so tonight."
USF had led 17-3 with eight minutes left, only to see Rutgers' Jeremy Deering, a Leto grad, take the kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Needing an 80-yard touchdown drive to tie with 3:23 left, Rutgers did just that, with backup quarterback Chaz Dodd hitting receiver Mohamed Sanu seven times on the drive, then throwing a 35-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.
Rutgers had a chance to win in regulation, but Kayvon Webster intercepted a pass, putting USF at its 26 with 31 seconds left. B.J. Daniels threw a 34-yard pass to Demetris Murray, then scrambled 30 yards to the Rutgers 10 to set up the game-winner, only to see Bonani miss. Then in overtime, Daniels saw a third-down pass tipped by tight end Evan Landi and intercepted by Rutgers' Duron Harmon, setting up the game-winning field goal by San San Te.
"That one hurt a little bit," coach Skip Holtz said. "I am so proud of this team -- the heart, the energy, the passion that they're playing the game with. ... You rush for 221 yards and your defense gives up minus-7, statistically you're not supposed to lose those games. ... It's not like we had a million mistakes tonight. We didn't have the penalties. We're getting things corrected, but obviously we are a work in progress."
After a 4-0 start, USF (4-4, 0-4 in Big East) has its first-ever four-game losing streak, as well as Holtz's first in his history as a head coach. The Bulls must now win two of their final four games just to salvage bowl eligibility, or else they'll miss a bowl game for the first time since joining the Big East in 2005.
"We're all we've got. We're down here in New Jersey and it's just us," Daniels said. "We don't have the fan base and things like that. We've been with each other in Vero, been with each other all summer, so we're definitely a close-knit group."
USF's defense had held Rutgers to 106 yards entering the fourth quarter, but coach Greg Schiano turned to backup quarterback Chaz Dodd, who sparked the team, throwing for 125 yards and a touchdown in the final period. The Bulls were close to clinching the win, as linebacker DeDe Lattimore had two sacks on Rutgers' touchdown drive, forcing a fourth-and-9, but Sanu converted on a wild catch as he slid on his back. The same defense that gave up 20 points in the fourth quarter against Cincinnati saw Rutgers score 14 in the final eight minutes.
Now it's the Bulls who have to find a spark, starting with another road challenge Friday at Syracuse.
"There is no time to put my head down," Bonani said. "Tomorrow, I have to be at practice and correct the mistakes that I've made and we'll go on as a football team. There is nothing that is going to come between this team. Not a field goal, not an incompletion, not a fumble, anything. We are a family, and we are going to stick together through it all."