TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — No one on South Florida’s sideline appreciated ending four years of frustration against Rutgers more than Moise Plancher.
The sixth-year senior ran for a career-high 135 yards and tackle Jacob Sims recovered the running back’s fourth-quarter fumble in the end zone, helping the Bulls beat the Scarlet Knights 28-27 on Wednesday night.
No conference foe has been tougher on USF since the Bulls entered the Big East than Rutgers, which had won four straight in the series, including blowout victories by a combined score of 80-16 the past two seasons.
“It felt good,” Plancher said. “I got a little worried at the end when we didn’t get a couple of first downs, but the defense did an amazing job and protected it.”
B.J. Daniels threw two TD passes and Maikon Bonani kicked a pair of field goals for USF (5-3, 2-2 Big East).
“There was a lot of joy and jubilation in that locker room,” said first-year coach Skip Holtz, who used tape of the previous two games to motivate his players.
Mason Robinson scored on a 60-yard punt return and receiver Mohamed Sanu took a lateral and threw a 21-yard TD pass to Mark Harrison for Rutgers (4-4, 1-2), which has lost two straight since defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the waist down making a tackle in a game last month.
The 290-pound Sims scored the first touchdown by an offensive lineman in USF history when Plancher dove over the pile near the goal line, flipped and lost control on the ball. Sims fell on it to wipe out a 27-22 deficit with 9:33 remaining.
The Bulls’ defense, which limited Rutgers to 238 yards total offense, made the slender lead stand.
“You could see it was a game of cat and mouse out there, a great battle,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “We just came up one point short.”
USF won its second in a row following opening 0-2 in the Big East. The Bulls didn’t score an offensive touchdown in conference losses to Syracuse and West Virginia, but have rebounded to score eight of them to hang in what is looming as a wide-open race for the conference title.
“We were 0-2. … On the outside looking in, everybody’s saying it’s broke,” Holtz said. “We didn’t flinch. We didn’t change what we were doing.”
Daniels completed 10 of 17 passes for 149 yards and one interception. He had five interceptions and no TD passes in USF’s two conference losses, compared to one interception and four scoring passes against Cincinnati and Rutgers.
Plancher compiled the best rushing night of his career on 21 carries.
The Rutgers athletic department announced earlier in the day that LeGrand, who was injured making a tackle against Army on Oct. 16, has been transferred from Hackensack University Medical Center to Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J., for the next phase of his treatment.
The Scarlet Knights dropped their first game following the injury, losing 41-21 at Pittsburgh while gaining just 203 yards in total offense.
Freshman Chas Dodd started at quarterback for the fourth straight game and completed 19 of 22 passes for 139 yards. He set up Sanu’s second touchdown pass of the season with a 40-yard completion to Harrison, who finished with five receptions for 88 yards and his team-leading fourth TD catch of the year.
Joe Martinek’s 1-yard TD run snapped a 17-17 tie less than five minutes into the second half. The plunge finished a 74-yard drive fueled by a pair of 15-yard penalties on South Florida for a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct, as well as Jeremy Deering’s 15-yard run out of the wildcat formation to inside the USF 1.
Plancher ran three times for 23 yards and gained 20-yard on a reception during USF’s drive that produced Bonani’s 21-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.
The Bulls pulled to 24-22 when Dodd — facing third-and-21 from the Rutgers 3 — threw an ill-advised screen pass to Kordell Young and the running back was tackled in the end zone by Keith McCaskill for a safety.
“The defensive lineman, he just twisted on it and he ended up right where we were throwing the ball,” Dodd said. “I guess he got lucky, rolled right into it.”
Schiano didn’t second-guess the play.
“We were anticipating pressure. Is it a risky call? Yeah, it’s a risky call,” the coach said, adding that it also was a situation that Young might have been able to turn into a big gainer.
“In retrospect you don’t want to call it,” Schiano said, “but when you make decisions, you make them and go with them.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.