TAMPA, Fla. – The Rutgers football roster did not come out sharp, but coordinator Robb Smith showed up ready and his defense answered the call.
The Scarlet Knights had an answer for everything South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels threw at them and leave Raymond James Stadium with a much-needed 23-13 victory to start conference play.
“No disrespect to Tulane and Howard, but this was the first real test of the season,” said senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone. “It’s a Big East game, probably the biggest game of our season so far and to be able to get that win and start the Big East 1-0 is huge.”
Daniels entered the game with plenty of swagger, but left looking like a freshman. Rattled all night by the defensive play calling and swarm to the football, Daniels tossed three picks and offered an equalizer to the undisciplined showing by the Rutgers offense.
Back-to-back interceptions by the Rutgers defense in the third quarter turned the momentum in favor of the Scarlet Knights before Gary Nova and Tim Wright broke the Bulls’ back in the final minutes.
After a failed pass deflection by Marcus Cooper led to a tie game, Wright and Nova hooked up for 46 yards and Kyle Federico followed suit with the game-winning 22-yard field goal.
The final nail came when South Florida tried to respond in the final three minutes. Running back Jawan Jamison, who played every snap on offense with Savon Huggins injured, electrified the crowd with a spin move for a 42-yard touchdown run on his 37th carry of the game.
Jamison finished the game with a school record 41 carries for 151 yards. It was his fourth straight 100-yard game dating back to last season.
“[Jamison] was just electric,” Nova said. “He came up big for us and made every play we needed. He kind of stole the show.”
Flood was vocal about his wide receivers failures leading up to the game and they answered his call. Led by Wright’s eight catches for 125 yards, the receivers a series of spectacular catches.
“I feel like I took a step today,” said Nova, who finished with 277 passing yards and a touchdown . “ I just have to keep watching tape.”
Rutgers (3-0, 1-0) is quickly becoming one of the best teams in the country at winning ugly. Thanks to big plays on defense and special teams, Rutgers overcame a brutal 11-penalty effort. Facing SEC foe Arkansas next weekend, Rutgers is well aware of what needs to be cleaned up, but enters the game undefeated and with momentum.
“This football team has done a nice job in the first three games, I think, of getting a little bit better each game, Flood said. “And now we’ve got a great test ahead of us going down to Arkansas and then jumping back into conference play. The formula is kind of our Rutgers formula.”