ST. PETERSBURG — It didn't matter which true freshman was taking snaps for Rutgers on Saturday night.
Whether it was quarterback Tom Savage or receiver Mohamed Sanu lining up in the wildcat formation, the Scarlet Knights got four touchdowns from their dynamic duo, pulling away from Central Florida to win the St. Petersburg Bowl 45-24 before a sellout crowd at Tropicana Field.
Sanu rushed for two scores on direct snaps and caught a third touchdown from Savage, who threw for 294 yards. Together, they helped Rutgers win its fourth bowl game in as many years, while keeping UCF winless in its short bowl history at 0-3.
"We did this for the seniors," Sanu said. "We wanted to send them out with a victory."
When Savage and Sanu weren't dominating, Rutgers' run defense was, holding the Knights to negative rushing yards late into the third quarter. Largo's Brynn Harvey, who had rushed for 1,077 yards and 14 touchdowns in the regular season, was held to 30 yards on 13 carries. Down 21 points in the third quarter, UCF went for it on fourth and 1, and Rutgers stuffed running back Jonathan Davis for no gain.
Davis scored on a 1-yard run late in the fourth to bring UCF back within 38-24 but Damaso Munoz of Rutgers returned the ensuing onside kick 35 yards for a touchdown.
In a high-scoring first half, momentum shifted to Rutgers just before halftime when UCF got the ball on its 13 with 1:46 to play. Knights quarterback Brett Hodges was picked off by walk-on cornerback Billy Anderson, who took it into the end zone for a 28-17 lead.
The Scarlet Knights started pulling away on the first drive of the second half, as Savage found Sanu deep for a 61-yard gain, then connected with the true freshman again for an 11-yard touchdown and a 35-17 lead.
UCF, which had a strong advantage in the stands with much of the sellout crowd announced at 29,763, got a 64-yard return from Quincy McDuffie on the opening kickoff. But Rutgers, which leads the nation in turnover margin, intercepted Hodges two plays later.
Rutgers showcased Sanu in the wildcat formation early, and he scored the first of two touchdowns on a direct snap from the 5-yard line for a 7-0 lead.
Sanu helped UCF, too, as he muffed a punt deep in his territory to set the Knights up on the Rutgers 9-yard line. Hodges tied the score with a touchdown to Kamar Aiken on third down.
Rutgers answered two plays later, with Savage hitting receiver Tim Brown for a 65-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead. After a UCF field goal, Savage converted three third downs to set up another short Sanu touchdown and a 21-10 lead.
UCF answered again, with Hodges hitting Aiken in stride for a 34-yard touchdown, cutting Rutgers' lead to 21-17.
Harvey was held in check. He managed just 14 yards on six carries in the first half, and UCF rushed for just 8 yards as a team before halftime.
The game's sellout crowd was a solid improvement on the 25,025 that was announced last season for USF's win against Memphis in the bowl's debut.
UCF came in seeking its first bowl win in just its third appearance, having lost the Hawaii and Liberty bowls in the past four years. Rutgers has won bowls in four straight seasons — this after not winning any bowl games in its first 136 seasons.
"It's unbelievable," Savage said. "I'm just happy to end the season with a 'W'. I'm excited for the future, it's a good jump start for 2010."
Times writer Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (813) 226-3346.