Thursday Night NCAA: South Florida at Rutgers
by Matt Severance - 11/11/2009
Frankly, if you are going to watch or bet on just one Big East game this week, Friday's ESPN matchup between West Virginia and Cincinnati is the key conference game of the year to this point. But that's not to say there are no storylines for Thursday night's ESPN matchup of South Florida (-1 on JustBet) and Rutgers - it's just that the storylines aren't quite as nationally relevant.
USF has a history of tanking late in the season, so the Bulls' 30-19 win over West Virginia last time out was a good sign for the program - it ended a two-game losing streak and got the school back in the major polls. Rutgers will be the first unranked team that USF has played since the first weekend in October.
Third-down conversions could be a key on Thursday. The Scarlet Knights, who love to bring pressure, are holding their opponents to 33.3 percent on third downs, which is No. 1 in the Big East and 20th in the nation. USF is 13 of 42 (31 percent) on third downs in the last three games.
South Florida redshirt freshman QB B.J. Daniels is very hit or miss -- two interceptions in three of his five starts, a total of five TD passes and no INTs in his other two -- but when he hits he does it for big plays. He leads all NCAA FBS quarterbacks in average yards per completion at 17.1. However, Daniels' favorite big-play target, receiver Carlton Mitchell, is doubtful for the game with an ankle sprain. Mitchell has six catches that have gone for 49 or more yards this season and leads the team in catches (29), receiving yards (542) and touchdown catches (four). Daniels, by the way, also leads USF on the ground with 519 rushing yards and four touchdowns -- he ran for 104 yards against West Virginia out for his third 100-yard game of the season.
Rutgers' only two losses this season have come against Big East unbeatens Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Despite that, the Scarlet Knights have won 13 of their past 15 games overall. It's easy to tell if Rutgers will win a game: Just look at turnover margin. It leads the nation with 25 takeaways and has a plus-20 margin (22 takeaways, two giveaways) in its six wins and minus-2 in its two losses. When USF commits more turnovers than its opponent this year, it is 2-2.
On offense, the Scarlet Knights start a freshman QB of their own in Tom Savage, and he is third in the Big East in passing (206.3 yards a game). He leads all true freshmen QBs nationally in touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating. But Rutgers is near the bottom of the country in sacks allowed (2.75 per game), and USF has two pass-rushing demons in George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul
Rutgers has won three in row against USF, including a 49-16 blowout last year when the Bulls turned the ball over six times. Some of USF's players took exception to the Scarlet Knights throwing the ball with a huge lead in the fourth quarter and are using that as extra motivation this week. Linebacker Kion Wilson told the media that Coach Jim Leavitt has been referring to the Rutgers game "since camp."
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