Rutgers’ running back Ray Rice ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulls at Raymond James Stadium last year. ORACLE PHOTO/JOSE LOPEZ JR.
Of the four losses the Bulls have suffered in the past two years, none have had the resonating effect of the 22-20 defeat suffered against Rutgers.
Even though the two-point margin was the smallest during that span, falling to the Scarlet Knights has stung the most.
“Our offensive line locker room is right next to the visitors locker room and you can hear them doing that cheer that was on YouTube,” senior center Nick Capogna said. “The coaching staff made us listen to it, and we heard them going nuts.”
Rutgers clinched the victory when Amp Hill dropped a potential game-tying two point conversion with 15 seconds remaining. The loss hurt even more when the Bulls watched the celebration on national television.
“Seeing (Eric Foster) in the locker room making all of that noise, I mean it was just definitely the wrong thing to do,” nose tackle Richard Clebert said. “It was all over ESPN and they were talking about this is their house – they run it. So we’re just so focused on this win.”
For USF to win its second conference game of the season, its defense is going to have to find a way to slow down the Scarlet Knights’ rushing attack.
Running back Ray Rice rushed for 202 yards and two touchdowns to give USF its only loss in its last 10 home games.
In two career games against the Bulls, Rice has rushed for 361 yards and two scores.
“He’s a great back – he’s going to be a handful. We have to do a great job to try and limit his yards because you’re not going to stop him,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “He’s a strong kid – real compact – runs down hill and he’s just a natural running back.”
In 14 games since, USF hasn’t allowed an opponent to gain more than 100 yards on the ground.
Rice, one of four potential Heisman Trophy candidates in the Big East, has been described by the Bulls as a player who is able to break tackles and create separation with his speed.
“He’s a good running back. He’s been running all over the place,” defensive end George Selvie said. “We just know we’re going to have to bring our A-game to stop him.”
The Bulls are ranked 11th nationally in total defense and a major factor for their No. 2 ranking is their ability to shut down elite rushers.
West Virginia’s Steve Slaton was an All-American last season and is averaging 104.2 yards per game. Against USF, he was held to 54 yards and fumbled twice.
Central Florida’s Kevin Smith led the NCAA with 172 rushing yards per game and scored at least once in each of the first five games he played. When the Knights faced the Bulls, the junior gained 55 yards and was held out of the end zone.
Smith was benched in the third quarter as USF pulled away to its third largest victory in school history.
“We really didn’t get to see him because he got shut down,” Clebert said. “With Ray Rice it’s different because he has great balance. (Rutgers) hasn’t played us yet so we’ll see.”
On Thursday night, the Bulls hope to send Rice to the sidelines and return the favor by celebrating a victory in Rutgers Stadium.
“We don’t want a one-point win, we just want to win big,” Clebert said. “I love going to away games and hearing that crowd. We’re still very hungry.”