FACTS & STATS: Site: High Point Solutions Stadium (52,454) -- Piscataway, New Jersey. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: USF 1-5, Rutgers 4-2. Away Record: USF 1-4, Rutgers 1-4. Neutral Record: USF 0-0, Rutgers 0-0. Conference Record: USF 2-4, Rutgers 1-7. Series Record: Rutgers leads, 6-2.
GAME NOTES: The Rutgers Scarlet Knights will be in one last fight for their postseason lives on Saturday as they take on the South Florida Bulls in an American Athletic Conference season finale at High Point Solutions Stadium.
Any chances the Bulls had at the postseason went out the window long ago. USF has lost five straight games, all in league play, to spoil a promising 2-0 beginning to the conference schedule. The Bulls were even worse during their slate of non-conference affairs, losing all four contests, including a 53-21 rout by McNeese State. In all, the Bulls are holding just a 2-9 overall mark as the first season under head coach Willie Taggart comes to an end on Saturday.
At the beginning of October a bowl bid for Rutgers seemed to be a certainty, but since a 4-1 start, the Scarlet Knights have been struggling to get in the win column. In their last six games the Scarlet Knights have just a single victory, with that coming in a 23-20 comeback triumph over Temple.
These teams kicked off their conference schedules against each other last season. Rutgers scored 20 points in the second half to escape Raymond James Stadium with a 23-13 victory in that matchup. The win was the sixth in eight all-time meetings with USF for Rutgers.
The Bulls are not a team that has enjoyed much if any success on offense this season. USF is ranked dead last in the AAC in yards per game (266) and scoring (14.5 ppg). In fact the Bulls are the only team in the league to have fewer than 20 touchdowns.
Failing to have any consistency at quarterback has been one of the many weaknesses for the Bulls on the offensive side of the ball. Freshman Mike White has gotten the bulk of the chances during the stretch run of the campaign. In five games this season, White is the only quarterback to have a passer efficiency rating over 100. White has tallied 942 yards and three touchdowns on 54.9 percent passing, but he has also been picked off eight times.
No matter who has been throwing the ball, Andre Davis has been a favored target on the outside. Davis has brought in 48 passes for 721 yards and two touchdowns. His reception and yardage totals are both more than double that of any other receiver on the roster. Mike McFarland (21 receptions, 241 yards, two TDs) is the second option for the Bulls in the passing game.
The perhaps more consistent offensive weapon for the Bulls has been running back Marcus Shaw, who is averaging 5.1 yards per carry. In total, Shaw has accumulated 749 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
The Bulls have played better on defense this season. They are allowing only 350.4 yards per game to rank fourth in the AAC in total defense. USF showed off that defensive prowess last weekend against UCF as it held the Knights to 296 yards of total offense. DeDe Lattimore (80 tackles) is the most active playmaker on the unit.
Last weekend head coach Kyle Flood tried something different on offense, turning to Chas Dodd to start at quarterback. Dodd stepped in for Gary Nova, who had thrown for 2,159 yards and 18 scores as the starter, but was also guilty of 14 interceptions and just a 54.5 percent completion rate. Dodd didn't do any better in the Scarlet Knights' 28-17 loss to UConn as he completed just 16-of-35 pass attempts, was intercepted twice and did not record a touchdown pass. Dodd did finish with a 286 passing yards.
Dodd clearly has some chemistry with tight end Tyler Kroft, who has had 12 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown during the last two weeks as Dodd has seen more time. Kroft now leads the team in receptions (37) and receiving yards (479), while having tallied four scores through the air. Leonte Carroo (28 receptions, 478 yards, nine TDs) did not play against Connecticut and is questionable with a hamstring injury. Brandon Coleman (31 receptions, 459 yards, three TDs) has a ton of skill but has been less productive due to the weak play at quarterback.
Leading rusher Paul James (720 yards, seven TDs) has not been able to help as much as he may have liked this season, as he missed four games due to injury. James is yet again dealing with one this week as he is questionable with what is being described as a lower body injury. Justin Goodwin (472 yards, five TDs) has done well as a fill in, with a pair of 100-yard efforts on the season.
Defensively speaking the Scarlet Knights have seen a startling regression from last season. Rutgers is letting up 32 points per game and nearly 430 yards of total offense on a weekly basis. In fact, Rutgers is second to last in the league in total defense after being the second best a year ago. Steve Longa (104 tackles, 3.0 sacks) has anchored the unit, while Marcus Thompson (45 tackles, 4.5 sacks) is the best pass rusher.
For all its faults this season Rutgers still has some talented players on the offensive side. The Bulls' defense will be a real challenge for Dodd, but the Scarlet Knights should be able to score enough to outlast USF.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rutgers 26, South Florida 23
Saturday, December 7, 7:30 p.m. (et)