TAMPA — USF finally had some momentum on its side.
The Bulls made a stop and were driving into Rutgers territory with a chance to cut into the Scarlet Knights' 28-16 lead in the third quarter on Saturday. Junior quarterback Matt Grothe found wide receiver Jessie Hester over the middle, and Hester spun into the middle of the field only to get hit from behind and fumble the ball away.
After that play, Rutgers scored 21 consecutive points en route to a 49-16 win. But Hester's turnover wasn't the only one that hurt the Bulls, as it was one of six for USF.
"Sometimes things just happen, and you don't know why," USF offensive coordinator Greg Gregory said. "Jessie made a heck of a move and spun back out away from the defender, but his foot slipped and his elbow went away from his body. They just had a guy in the perfect spot."
On the Bulls' opening possession, sophomore receiver A.J. Love fumbled inside the Rutgers 30-yard line — one play after he committed a personal foul that took USF out of the Scarlet Knights' red zone.
"The play where A.J. fumbled was just freakish," wide receivers coach Mike Canales said. "He was taking a couple steps, trying to get it secured away and he got hit. That's just freakish.
In consecutive games, USF's receivers have made plays that hurt the team. They had six dropped passes on Oct. 30 in a 24-10 loss at Cincinnati. Saturday, USF receivers fumbled away two receptions and Rutgers scored seven points off of those two turnovers.
"I'm still trying to figure it out," Canales said. "It comes down to lack of execution. The receivers gave great effort, but the ball just got punched out. That's something you see every Saturday and you see it every Sunday."
The Bulls' six turnovers led to 21 points for the Scarlet Knights. Senior tight end Cedric Hill, who was held without a catch, said turnovers have been hurting the Bulls lately.
"If you take away the turnovers, this would have been a different ballgame," he said. "Any time you fumble the ball or commit penalties, you're hurting the team. I won't point any fingers. Being a senior, I always put things like that on me."
Grothe said he has no idea why the receivers have struggled over the past two games.
"When you're in a pressure situation and you have a guy hanging on your back, it's hard to make a catch," he said. "I know that they've done a great job all year and I wouldn't trade them for the world."
Canales said he didn't know why the receivers were struggling either.
"Everybody wants to think this is a mental thing, but I think it's just something we have to continue to work on," he said. "Whether it's lack of focus or lack of execution, whatever it is, we have to find a way to get it back."