Rutgers’ win gives USF its biggest loss at home

Chants from the small contingent of Rutgers’ faithful echoed through Raymond James Stadium Saturday as the South Florida Bulls continued to freefall down the Big East standings.

USF (6-4, 1-4) lost for the third game in a row to a Rutgers (5-5, 4-2) team that handed the Bulls their worst-ever home loss — a 49-16 drubbing that officially ended USF’s shot at a Big East title and a 10-win season.

USF coach Jim Leavitt said his team stopped competing during the game — a game where USF committed six turnovers and had 100 penalty yards.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen our team do that in a long time,” he said. “I’ve been here a number of years, and if you look at our football team, that doesn’t happen often. Why, again, I don’t know. We’ll try to figure it out.”

USF managed to keep the game close until the third quarter, when junior wide receiver Jessie Hester caught a ball near midfield, spun away from a tackler and then fumbled the ball away.

At that point, USF trailed 28-16, but Rutgers reeled off 21 unanswered points to put the game out of reach.

“We got our tails beat pretty bad in the second half. They just owned us,” USF defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “Second half, we couldn’t do anything. It’s a mystery to me, too. Hell, if I had an answer, I would have damn sure corrected it.”

Junior quarterback Matt Grothe left the game in the fourth quarter, and had a boot on his left foot. He injured his left foot/ankle when a player rolled onto it.

“I’ll be all right,” he said. “I played the rest of the series on it — they just didn’t want me to hurt it any worse.”

The 49 points Rutgers scored was a record for an opponent at Raymond James, and the 33-point margin of defeat was the largest ever on USF’s home field. The Bulls lost 56-21 at the Brut Sun Bowl in December and lost by 38 points to Arkansas in 2002.

The loss was the fourth in the last five games for USF.