'Dominated': Rutgers hands USF 31-0 shutout
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Give USF points for consistency: If it’s a Thursday, it’s a loss on ESPN, and if it’s midseason, the Bulls are freefalling, again.
Two weeks after No. 23 USF looked back on track by beating West Virginia, the Bulls were embarrassingly bad – perhaps unprecedentedly bad -- for a national ESPN audience, self-destructing on offense and on special teams in a 31-0 loss at Rutgers.
“We got dominated,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “Offensively, we didn’t do a thing. They just completely dominated us. … They beat the dog out of us.”
It’s the first regular-season shutout in USF’s 13-year history, and it’s the fourth straight loss against the Scarlet Knights. And this might sound familiar, but after a 5-0 start, the Bulls have lost three of four games, the last two losses by a combined 58 points.
Asked what he told his team in the locker room after the game, Leavitt said “I said, ‘Let’s say the Lord’s Prayer and move on. It wasn’t the Lord’s fault.”
The Bulls (6-3, 2-3) were bad enough that even the TV announcers were ashamed. ESPN’s Chris Fowler, who votes in the Associated Press top 25, said on air that he was “embarrassed” he had voted for USF in last week’s poll.
Redshirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels, electric against the Mountaineers, looked lost, accounting for three first-half turnovers and lacking the poise and calm showed by Rutgers true freshman quarterback Tom Savage, who threw for two touchdowns. Running back Joe Martinek rushed for 103 of his 128 yards in the second half.
USF’s offense totaled just 159 yards, its lowest total since joining the Big East, and the seven total first downs matched the low in the program’s history.
“It’s very disheartening, very upsetting,” offensive coordinator Mike Canales said. “I’m very disappointed in myself. To come out and show that kind of performance is unacceptable on my part. We’ll regroup, battle, get back and work our butts off harder than we already do.”
The Bulls defense, which had kept USF in the game for a half, joined the rest of the team in the second half, giving up 18 points in a span of 10 minutes.
“The first half, I think we played pretty staggering defense,” said linebacker Kion Wilson, who had 18 total tackles. “We were surprised that the score wasn’t worse than it was. There was plenty of opportunity they had to put points on the board.”
Was it the worst showing in USF’s short history? Fans will be left to rank this with a 41-7 loss at Pittsburgh last month, a 49-16 loss to Rutgers last season, or perhaps a 56-21 loss in the Sun Bowl two years ago.
It was a disastrous first half, with three turnovers and two huge special-teams mistakes, with the Bulls lucky to be down just 13-0.
Daniels had two interceptions and a fumble, with two turnovers inside the Rutgers 30-yard line, nearly immediately after 37-yard pass plays to A.J. Love and Theo Wilson. Take away those two plays, and USF mustered 75 yards on the other 47 offensive plays of the game.
“It’s something we’re definitely not used to,” Daniels said. “We have a lot of weapons on our offense. We’re explosive, and they did a really good job of containing us and shutting us down.”
The special-teams units were worse – Faron Hornes muffed a punt, setting Rutgers up on the USF 21-yard line, but a botched snap on a field goal netted zero points for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers blocked a Delbert Alvarado punt, and the Bulls muffed two kickoffs but recovered the loose balls.
The Bulls have struggled on Thursday nights under the ESPN spotlight, losing on this same field two years ago at Rutgers when USF was ranked No. 2 nationally. They lost to Cincinnati on a Thursday that same season, and took their first loss to the Bearcats on a Thursday night last month. They’ve also struggled against Rutgers – last year’s 49-16 loss was the most lopsided the Bulls have suffered in Big East play.
And despite the impressive win against West Virginia two weeks ago, the Bulls have suffered another midseason swoon, losing three of four games after a 5-0 start. USF still needs one more win just to lock up bowl eligibility, and the Bulls return home to face Louisville on Nov. 21.