TAMPA — There would be no fourth-quarter heroics for USF this time, no amazing comeback, just another embarrassing Thursday night loss as Rutgers pulled away to a 23-13 win at Raymond James Stadium.
After rallying to tie the score in the fourth quarter, the Bulls got the ball twice in the final seven minutes — first with the score tied, then down three points — but there was no late-game magic as there was last week against Nevada. Quarterback B.J. Daniels missed on six of his final seven passes, including one on fourth and 4 with 2:20 to play. Rutgers put the game away with a 41-yard touchdown run by Jawan Jamison with 1:19 left.
USF (2-1, 0-1 Big East) committed four turnovers and couldn't get Rutgers (3-0, 1-0) off the field on third down, allowing one long conversion after another. For a team hopeful of winning an elusive Big East title and coming off a wild comeback win at Nevada, the Bulls dropped to 1-7 in conference games at home in three seasons under Skip Holtz.
For all the frustration of the first three quarters, USF got a huge break when Daniels' third-down pass went off the fingertips of 6-foot-2 Rutgers corner Marcus Cooper into the hands of 5-5 receiver Derrick Hopkins at the Rutgers 1-yard line. On the next play, Demetris Murray scored to tie it at 13.
USF had the ball with the chance to take the lead, but the offense fizzled, with three consecutive incompletions by Daniels, setting up Rutgers for a chance to break the tie. Gary Nova found receiver Tim Wright for a 46-yard gain, setting up Rutgers at the USF 7. The defense held, and Kyle Federico hit a 22-yard field goal for a 16-13 lead with 2:48 left.
USF entered 0-8 in Thursday night games on ESPN, dating to a 2007 loss to Rutgers when the Bulls were ranked No. 2 in the nation. On this Thursday, much of the Bulls' troubles were self-inflicted.
USF had three scoreless trips inside the Rutgers' 30, including an interception on a bobbled pass at the goal line as the Bulls looked to tie it late in the third quarter. The Bulls led the entire first half but never were in control, getting a pair of early field goals by Maikon Bonani but not moving the ball with consistency and needing help from Rutgers to hold the lead.
After throwing three touchdown passes of 50-plus yards in Saturday's win at Nevada, the Bulls struck for two long plays in the second quarter but couldn't turn either into points. Daniels found Andre Davis for a 44-yard gain, but facing fourth and 1 at the Rutgers' 28, Daniels was stopped for no gain. The next drive saw Daniels hit Terrence Mitchell for a 58-yard gain, but Daniels was intercepted from the Rutgers 25.
The Bulls led 6-3 at halftime and forced a three-and-out to open the second half, but for the second week in a row, Mitchell lost a fumble on a punt return, setting Rutgers up at the USF 37. A field goal tied it a 6.
Another Daniels interception, this on a screen off the hands of Murray, set up Rutgers at the Bulls' 30, and the Scarlet Knights got the game's first touchdown on a 6-yard throw from Nova to Mark Harrison for a 13-6 lead.
Answering that, USF had its first sustained drive, going from its 25 to the Rutgers' 3-yard line, but Daniels' throw was bobbled by tight end Evan Landi and intercepted in the end zone by Rutgers' Wayne Warren.
USF had a quick turnaround, playing Thursday after a long trip to Nevada and a return flight that got them back to Tampa at about 3 a.m. Sunday. Rutgers, too, had a short week but was coming off an easy 26-0 home win against I-AA Howard.
The Bulls next have two nonconference games, traveling to Ball State next weekend then returning home for Florida State on Sept. 29. .