PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Give USF points for consistency. If it's a Thursday night, it's a loss on ESPN. And if it's midseason, the Bulls are free-falling.
Two weeks after No. 23 USF looked back on track by beating West Virginia, it was embarrassingly bad — perhaps unprecedentedly bad — for a national ESPN audience, self-destructing in a 31-0 loss at Rutgers.
It's the first regular-season shutout in USF's 13-year history, and it's the Bulls' fourth straight loss to the Scarlet Knights. And this might sound familiar: After a 5-0 start, the Bulls have lost three of four games, the past two by a combined 58 points.
The Bulls (6-3, 2-3 Big East) were bad enough that even one TV announcer was ashamed. ESPN's Chris Fowler, who votes in the Associated Press Top 25, said on the air he was "embarrassed" he 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 freshman quarterback Tom Savage.
The offense finished with 159 yards, fewest since joining the Big East.
The defense, which 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.
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 special teams mistakes, and the Bulls were lucky to be down just 13-0.
Daniels had two interceptions and a fumble. The fumble came one play after he hit A.J. Love for a 37-yard pass to the Rutgers 25. One series later, Daniels hit Theo Wilson for 37 yards to the Rutgers 29. Two plays later, Khaseem Greene intercepted him in the end zone.
Take away the 37-yard gains, and USF mustered 51 yards and two first downs in the half.
The special teams were worse. Faron Hornes muffed a punt, setting Rutgers up on the USF 21. But a botched field goal snap netted zero points for the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers (7-2, 2-2) blocked a Delbert Alvarado punt — the sixth career blocked kick for senior Devin McCourty — to set it up at the 23. But it had to settle for a field goal and a 13-0 halftime lead.
For a half at least, the defense kept USF in a game it really wasn't in. After Rutgers went 80 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive, it had five more first-half drives that went inside the USF 35 but mustered just six points.
The Scarlet Knights eventually found the end zone again with Savage connecting on a 26-yard score to receiver Tim Brown for a 21-0 lead midway through the third.
USF moved the ball to the Rutgers 29, but on fourth and 3, Daniels was dropped for a 17-yard sack and pushed backward another 15 from where he was marked down.
Daniels has turned heads with his big-play ability. But Thursday, he was outdueled by a freshman who has made a name for himself by not making mistakes. Savage had thrown just one interception in Rutgers' first eight games, and his only pick against USF amounted to a 48-yard net punt.
The Bulls have struggled on Thursday nights under the ESPN spotlight, losing on this same field two years ago when they were 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 also have struggled with Rutgers. Last season's 49-16 loss was the most lopsided the Bulls have suffered in Big East play.
USF still needs one more win just to lock up bowl eligibility.