TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — South Florida’s Skip Holtz put away the motivational ploys this week. With Rutgers coming to town, all the coach had to do to get the attention of his players was turn on some old game film.
No Big East foe has been tougher on the Bulls than the Scarlet Knights, who’ve won four straight in their series, including the past two by a combined score of 80-16.
The conference rivals meet again Wednesday night, each hoping to cast aside disappointing starts and hang in what is looming as a wide-open race for the league championship.
“You bring up the word Rutgers around here, everybody kind of goes ‘ooh.'” You sit down and you start to watch the film and you understand why everybody feels the way they do,” Holtz said, noting USF was trounced 31-0 on the road a year ago and 49-16 at home in 2008.
“We have watched those games. Not only have we watched them as a staff, but we watched them as an offense and a defense,” Holtz added. “I think it’s a little extra motivating for your players when they get out on the field. You start talking about that and remind them daily, 80-16 over two years. You come to work today or get ready to get embarrassed.”
Rutgers (4-3, 1-1) also handed the Bulls a crushing 3-point defeat in 2007, when USF (4-3, 1-2) was ranked No. 2 in the country. Last year’s debacle knocked out them out of the Top 25.
Naturally, Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano played down his team’s success in a series that Rutgers leads 4-1.
“I just think we had a couple of good days against them,” Schiano said. “And although we’ve been able to have some good games, it certainly doesn’t mean anything Wednesday.”
Rutgers, which will be playing its second game since defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down making a tackle against Army on Oct. 16, is coming off a 41-21 loss to Pittsburgh.
South Florida failed to score an offensive touchdown in dropping its first two conference games under Holtz, but rebounded with its best overall performance of the season in a 38-30 road win over Cincinnati that gave the Bulls hope for turnaround that keep them in contention.
“Our backs were definitely against the wall up there. There was a lot riding on that game,” sophomore quarterback B.J. Daniels said. “I feel like we’re still alive and still have an opportunity to do some great things.”
Daniels threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more against Cincinnati. More importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over after throwing 10 interceptions through his team’s first six games. Nine of those interception were thrown in losses to Florida, Syracuse and West Virginia.
One of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation a year ago, Daniels has struggled making the transition to being more of a pocket passer in the offense system Holtz brought in from East Carolina after replacing former coach Jim Leavitt in January. His performance against Cincinnati was a big step forward.
“It’s all part of the development. … I thought he showed great poise. I thought he was patient in the pocket,” Holtz said. “He made great decisions with the ball in his hands.”
Schiano noticed, too.
“You remember last year, I was scared to death of that guy, and I put him in the Michael Vick class. … Our game kind of didn’t go his way. Then he had a new system that they implemented this year and he you could see that he was learning it. Fortunately for him and unfortunately for us, these last two weeks, really last week especially, he just seemed very comfortable,” Schiano said.
“You can watch a guy that doesn’t look like he is straining at all out there. That didn’t make me happy to throw that tape on. You can see when a guy stops thinking and just starts playing, and that’s what he looked like against Cincinnati. He looked like the guy that I saw when we were getting ready last year. … We have our hands full.”
Freshman Chas Dodd will make his fourth start at quarterback for Rutgers. He won two of his first three, leading fourth-quarter comebacks in each of the wins.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.