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 for the final 10 points and a 23-13 victory.
The first mistake was a coverage breakdown on defense with Rutgers at its 47-yard line on second down. CB Kayvon Webster broke off a receiver to cover a back coming out of the backfield, leaving Tim Wright open for a 46-yard gain to the USF 7. That set up the go-ahead field goal by Rutgers.
"It was a miscommunication," Webster said. "We switched off, and they got where we were lacking. We just have to stay focused throughout the whole game."
Even after the Bulls' offense missed on a fourth down conversion attempt, the Bulls had two timeouts and 2:13 left, with a chance to get one last drive. Any chance of that ended when Rutgers RB 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," said defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, whose unit had held Jamison to 101 yards on 36 carries to that point, an average of fewer than 3 yards per rush. "I was upset with that last play. We didn't fit it right. We missed a tackle on the back end.
"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, TE Andreas Shields inexplicably let the ball land directly behind him and bounce back unclaimed. Rutgers recovered at the USF 25-yard line and ran out most of the final 1:19.
USF's inability to move the ball on its final three drives ended any chance of a comeback.
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." … USF's lack of a running game and struggles defensively on third down led to nearly 17 fewer minutes of possession than Rutgers. "Our inability to getting off the field on third down was the key defensively," Holtz said. … DT 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.