The Bulls open Big East play at home Thursday night against their nemesis, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Although Greg Schiano now patrols the opposite sideline at Raymond James Stadium, on a different day of the week, this Rutgers team won't be too different than what you're used to seeing. Schiano was replaced with offensive line coach Kyle Flood, and although many of the assistants are new, the philosophy is similar. Rutgers still has a tough, talented defense that applies pressure, and a pro-style, ball-control offense that tries to run and build off it with play-action.
Last year USF absolutely should have won the game in Piscataway, but gave it away in a 14-point fourth-quarter meltdown that was unprecedented in school history. So while they seem to have the right idea against Rutgers, they still have to execute the plan. Here's how they can do it.
1. Bottle up Jawan Jamison again. Obviously easier said than done, but last year Jamison carried the ball 15 times for a grand total of 12 yards. In fact, the entire Rutgers team rushed for -7 yards when you include the sacks of Gary Nova and Chas Dodd. Rutgers still doesn't throw the ball very well (although they do have some dangerous receivers), so the Bulls would do well to focus on the run.
2. Keep the Rutgers defense off balance. USF has run the ball very well the last two years against the Scarlet Knights by using a variety of looks that also forced the pass rushers to stay at home more often. Two years ago it was an option game, mixed with some shovel passes. Last year it was using B.J. Daniels as a running threat along with Darrell Scott to hammer it between the tackles. (It was his only 100-yard game in Big East play.) This year they may need to go back to more of the option and misdirection because Murray has not fared well against Rutgers in his career. Marcus Shaw's availability would be helpful, but that doesn't look likely.
3. Special teams. They got Rutgers back in the game last year. They almost took USF out of the game last week against Nevada. They're something Rutgers is really good at. They're something USF is not good at. It's going to be a factor.
4. Third down. Greg mentioned this in his chat on Tuesday and he's absolutely right about third down being a key. Both teams want to control possession. If you lose third down, you can't control the possession. Pretty simple.
5. Wait for Rutgers to call a screen pass on third and very long near their own end zone and then tackle them for a safety. Hey, it worked last time USF beat them.