Three mistakes let Rutgers pull away in final minutes
TAMPA -- For all USF's futility Thursday night, the Bulls still found themselves tied with Rutgers with six minutes remaining, but three costly mistakes allowed the Scarlet Knights to pull away to the final 10 points and a 23-13 victory over the Bulls.
The first was a coverage breakdown on defense, with Rutgers at its 47-yard line on second down. Cornerback Kayvon Webster broke off a receiver to cover a back coming out of the backfield, leaving Tim Wright wide-open for a 46-yard gain to the USF 7-yard line, setting up the go-ahead field goal by Rutgers.
"It was a miscommunication. We switched off, and they got where we were lacking," Webster said after the game. "We just have to stay focused throughout the whole game."
USF was still in the game, and even after the Bulls' offense missed on a fourth down, the Bulls had two time outs and 2:13 left, with a chance to get one last drive as USF did five days earlier in rallying to beat Nevada. Any chance of that ended when Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison ran up the middle and got past safety Mark Joyce on a spin move that made ESPN's nightly highlights, breaking loose for a 41-yard touchdown.
"I thought we tackled him real well, other than that last play. I was upset with that last play," defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, whose unit had held Jamison to 101 yards on 36 carries to that point, less than 3 yards per rush. "We didn't fit it right. We missed a tackle on the back end and I was disappointed in that. ... We let two big plays at the end, in the fourth quarter ... which accounted for like 88 yards right there. We've got to eliminate the big plays."
The Bulls' final miscues weren't over -- when Rutgers sent its kickoff short and to the right side, tight end Andreas Shields, who had cleanly fielded a short kickoff at the end of the second half, inexplicably allowed the ball to land directly behind him and bounce back unclaimed, where Rutgers recovered the live ball at the USF 25-yard line, allowing the Scarlet Knights to run out most of the final 1:19.
USF's inability to move the ball offensively on the final three drives ended any chance of a comeback, but the mistakes at the end of a close game were reminiscent of last season's persistent problems.
"You feel like you have to keep fighting your way out of a hole we keep creating for ourselves," coach Skip Holtz said. "We're digging our own hole. We've got to eliminate some of those."
THIS AND THAT: Terrence Mitchell took accountability for fumbling a punt return for the second game in a row. "I got too relaxed getting out of bounds," Mitchell said. "I've got to do better with the special-teams portion of the game. I've got to be better." ... The lack of a running game and struggles defensively on third down led to Rutgers possessing the ball nearly 17 minutes more than USF. "Our inability to getting off the field on third down was the key, defensively," Holtz said. ... Defensive tackle Cory Grissom said USF's challenge on a short week was more mental than physical, their bodies having recovered from Saturday's game at Nevada. "Physically, it wasn't really all that bad. Just the mental focus, trying to get everybody mentally ready," he said.