Rutgers' win ends USF's run, deals blow to Big East
Posted: Friday October 19, 2007 2:30AM; Updated: Friday October 19, 2007 2:30AM
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- They came from near (New York Giants stars Michael Strahan, New York Mets stud David Wright) and far (Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker, Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms), all sharing a common curiosity. "It's a chance to see the No. 2 team in the country live!" a giddy press-box spectator exclaimed into his cell-phone shortly before kickoff.
In front of a stadium-record 44,267 spectators and a national-television audience, South Florida and Rutgers staged yet another Big East Thursday-night thriller, complete with blocked kicks and fake field goals, a Heisman-like running performance by Rutgers' Ray Rice and some Tebow-like playmaking by USF's Matt Grothe. Only after surviving an ill-timed Rice fumble and stuffing the Bulls on two last-minute possessions did the Scarlet Knights procure a 30-27 victory.
As the final seconds ticked away on college football's latest top-five "upset," Rutgers students flooded the field just as they had 11 months earlier after beating Louisville.
For the second straight year, the Scarlet Knights ended one of their conference foe's dreams of an undefeated season. In all probability, they also assured their conference's irrelevance for the rest of this 2007 season.
It doesn't have to be that way. It probably shouldn't be that way. But such is life for the BCS' new kid on the block -- particularly when its last remaining hope for perfection was itself an infant.
When you're an LSU or Oklahoma, you can lose a tough conference road game, brush it off and return to the top five within a couple weeks as if it never happened. When you're USF, and you lose a tough conference road game just four days after an already skeptical set of voters tabbed you the No. 2 team in the country almost as an obligation, you can expect the court of public opinion to be somewhat less merciful.
"We had a chip on our shoulders tonight," said USF cornerback Trae Williams. "We wanted to prove to the nation that we were deserving of the ranking. Obviously, we didn't get it done tonight."
No, they did not, and the way the game played out, the Bulls were extremely fortunate to even be in it in the final minute. After going 14 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher, Rice, their longtime nemesis, reached the three-digit mark two plays into the third quarter on his way to a 39-carry, 181-yard night. Meanwhile, Rutgers' defense suffocated Grothe's receivers and, after losing right tackle Walter Walker to injury, eventually Grothe himself. The normally elusive quarterback (he gained 118 rushing yards on the night) wound up the victim of seven sacks (dropping his net yardage to 58), including three on two failed last-ditch possessions, both of which started at midfield or closer.
And then there was the Bulls' special teams. Simply put, they were not special. They allowed a fake field goal. A fake punt. They missed one field-goal attempt and had another one blocked. They did have a field-goal block of their own, but even that took something of a Keystone Cops turn when first cornerback Mike Jenkins, then linebacker Tyrone McKenzie appeared to purposely "scoop" the ball forward on the return. Replay officials agreed, overturning what had been deemed a touchdown for Williams by the refs on the field.