The Bulls have their first test tonight since the BCS rankings came out. They have to go up to New Jersey to play Rutgers in a big Big East match up on Thursday night. Rutgers is having a disappointing season thus far, but a win over USF would put them back into the Big East picture and may turn their season around.
If previous stats mean anything, Rutgers should feel pretty good because home teams have a record of 14-7 on Thursday nights this season, and home teams have had similar success in past seasons. Rutgers needs to only look to last season to gain confidence and see what a game like this can do for the rest of their season. Last year Louisville came into Rutgers ranked number 3 in the country and were upset on a field goal at the end of the game. This is a different team and different year for Rutgers, but these players have done it before and are ready to do it again. Rutgers also has not lost three consecutive games at home since 2003, when the team was horrible. Both teams are coming off of big wins last week, Rutgers over Syracuse and USF over UCF.
This game will be a match up of two great running games as well as two good run defenses. Rutgers, led by Ray Rice, averages 182 yards on the ground per game while USF, averaging 180 yards a game, get their yards from 3 different sources. The Bulls have been getting equal contributions from running backs Ben Williams and Mike Ford, as well as quarterback Matt Groethe. Both teams will need to the run the ball well in this game if they want a chance to win the game.
These two defense are middle of the pack in the Big East in rush defense, but have looked good stopping the run this season. The Bulls shut down WVU early this season, who have the number 2 run offense, and also shut down the nations leading rusher, Kevin Smith, last week. Rutgers shut down Navy and their number 1 rush offense earlier this year, but struggled against Maryland to stop the run. Both of these teams depend on running the ball to score points and to help open up the passing game. The team that runs for more yards in this game will win the game.
The two quarterbacks in this game could not be more different. Teel is a pocket passer, whose job is to be efficient and get just enough to win the game. Meanwhile, Groethe will use his legs and arm to try and win the game and much more is asked of Groethe in the offense. Teel is a very efficient passer and normally does not make many mistakes, which will cause his team to lose the game. When Teel makes mistakes, Rutgers gets into bad positions and tend to lose the game. Teel had bad games in both the Cincinnati and Maryland loses earlier this season. Rutgers was up in the Cincy game going into the half, but Tell made mistakes in the second half to cost them the game.
Groethe has not had a good year passing the ball, until last week against UCF. The Knights do not have a good secondary and Groethe did exploit that all game. He struggled earlier this year against teams that did have good secondaries like FAU and UNC. If Groethe tries to force balls in against Rutgers, they will get picked off and end badly for USF. While he only has 3 interceptions on the season, they have been in the red zone or during bad spots in games. Groethe will need to take what the defense gives him and not try to force anything.
The biggest stat in this game will be turnovers. Whoever wins this turnover battle will win this game because these two teams thrive off of getting turnovers and taking advantage of them. If the Bulls make mistakes tonight, Rutgers will capitalize and win this game. It is going to be very loud at Rutgers tonight and they are ready to end USF's magical run. The Bulls are coming off of a short week and have not played in a big Thursday game like this ever. This should be a great game that will come down to the fourth quarter and whoever makes the least amount of mistakes. Rutgers will be ready for this game and I think it may be too much for USF.
Prediction: Rutgers 27 USF 24