PISCATAWAY, N.J. — As demoralizing as Thursday night's 31-0 loss was for USF, it could have been worse.
For one half, at least, defense kept the Bulls within striking distance of Rutgers, keeping the halftime deficit at 13-0 despite several early mistakes on offense and special teams.
The Scarlet Knights opened the game with an 80-yard touchdown drive and looked ready to blow the game open after adding a punt block, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. They started three first-half drives in USF territory, including two inside the 25-yard line.
But the Bulls held Rutgers to six points and 126 yards on those seven drives.
"Our defense I thought played really, really well," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "I could not believe we were still in the game at halftime. I was shocked."
Rutgers began its second drive on the USF 41-yard line after picking off quarterback B.J. Daniels, but the Scarlet Knights had to settle for a 36-yard field goal after safety Jerrell Young thwarted a third-down conversion attempt with a big hit on receiver Julian Hayes.
Minutes later, the Bulls muffed a punt return and the Scarlet Knights were at the 21. They pushed to the 9 before USF forced a short field-goal attempt. Holder Teddy Dellaganna dropped the snap and the USF defense rushed off the field in celebration, linebacker Sabbath Joseph leaping to embrace Leavitt.
"We knew we had to bail us out a few times and we were able to do it," safety Nate Allen said.
Cornerback Jerome Murphy intercepted a deep pass on the next Rutgers drive.
The Scarlet Knights blocked a punt with 2:28 left before halftime, setting up the offense at the USF 23-yard line. Rutgers had first and 10 at the 12 before a short run and two incompletions. Field-goal time again.
"We knew we did extremely well in that half," linebacker Kion Wilson said.
"They got down in there and scored and got seven points early, but after that our defense played extraordinary," Leavitt said. "For it not to be like 30-0 at halftime? I mean, really. Honestly. We were giving them everything."