South Florida's Cinderella story appears to have ended. They had a great start, beating Auburn on the road and knocking off a Top 5 West Virginia team for the second year in a row, but they came up a little short at Rutgers. Coach Jim Leavitt was on my staff as a Graduate Assistant at Iowa. He is a heck of a coach and has done a fantastic job in building that program from scratch. I may have taught him some things along the way, but he taught me something too... Do not run wind sprints with your players!
Jim is a wild man on the sidelines and he still does conditioning drills with his players after practice. And if you saw the game last night, he ran a few sprints to get ready to coach the game. The only thing my metal knees are good for anymore is when I go to the airport everybody dives under the table when I go through security. I've been using about a quart per day of WD-40 to get these knees of mine going.
I think that Coach Leavitt's team lost last night for a couple of reasons. They committed too many penalties in key situations and they got outplayed in the specialty teams. South Florida was not helped either by the short week of preparation. Both teams played on Saturday, but the Bulls had to travel all the way up the east coast on Wednesday and lost a day of practice.
Rutgers' running back Ray Rice is a truly outstanding player. South Florida has a tough defense, and that was just the second time in the last 15 games that a running back gained over 100 yards against them. Rice was the last player to gain over 100 yards on the Bulls when he gained 202 yards last year, followed up by 181 yards on 39 carries last night.
I thought Matt Grothe played well for South Florida, but the play calling really hurt his cause. They could not pick up the blitzes and he continued to get sacked for big losses. I think USF should have used the short passing game. Rutgers blitzed on every play and an occasional screen or dump off pass to the tight end would have kept the Knights honest. You have to give Rutgers credit because they played a very smart game and knocked off another Top 5 team on a Thursday night in Piscataway.
The specialty teams were really the difference for Rutgers. Ito made 3 of his 4 field goals for Rutgers, including a 51-yarder and Alvorado missed one for USF and had another attempt blocked. Early in the first half, Coach Schiano rolled the dice and faked a punt that eventually led to a field goal. The three points proved to be the difference in the 30-27 win. Schiano also dialed up a fake field goal. The holder, DePaola got up out of his stance and threw a strike to Kevin Brock for a touchdown. The pass dropped right over the top of the defender and that tight end made a heck of a catch on his way to the end zone.
I am really proud of Greg Schiano for using trick plays the way he did. They were always base plays for me, because I though it was easy to catch the opponent sleeping. I have been watching all of these triple overtime games like LSU-Kentucky, Nevada-Boise State and others that could have been decided much earlier. All a coach has to do is fake a field goal on an extra point try and the game would be over. I give Schiano credit for having the confidence in his team to execute the trick plays.