Fans were nowhere to be found. Players were silent, holding their heads in their hands. When it was finally over, the South Florida football team left the field as quickly and quietly as possible, staring at a scoreboard that showed just how far it has fallen this season.
In their third defeat in a row, the Bulls (6-4, 1-4) lost 49-16 to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5-5, 4-2) on Saturday. The 49 points are the most USF has allowed at Raymond James Stadium in its history, and the 33-point margin of defeat is the worst ever for a home loss.
After the game, coach Jim Leavitt said the team simply stopped competing.
“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.”
The Bulls committed six turnovers and 10 penalties for 100 yards. They never held a lead, and allowed Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel to throw for 294 yards and three touchdowns.
USF trailed 28-10 midway through the third quarter after the Scarlet Knights opened the second half with a 12-play, 82-yard drive that put the game out of reach.
“That drive devastated our defense,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “We’ve got to find an answer, because it’s getting pretty late.”
The Bulls pulled within 12 points on their ensuing drive, but Rutgers scored 21 unanswered points to crush the Bulls — and their already slim chance of stealing a Big East championship.
Burnham said he was embarrassed by the fact that Rutgers scored 49 points.
“Our kids responded for a half, and that’s been our tale,” he said. “We just have to put four quarters together, and we didn’t do that today.”
The play that made most of the fans leave and the players put their heads down happened early in the fourth quarter.
Teel found junior receiver Kenny Britt in the middle of the field between two USF defenders. Britt — the only receiver on the play — broke two tackles and scored a 93-yard touchdown.
“It hurts your pride more than anything,” senior safety Carlton Williams said. “Defense, we take pride in not letting people score. (The late throws were) almost sending a message to me. I was (emotionally) hurt. As a defense, pride has to step in and you have to be able to stop it.”
Burnham was frustrated by the Bulls’ second-half collapse.
“It’s a mystery to me, too,” he said. “If I had the answer, I would have d— sure corrected it.”
Burnham added that the Bulls’ three-game losing streak might indicate a rut that USF cannot pull itself out of.
“You always worry about that,” he said. “That’s always a problem.”
Leavitt said that even though things look bad for the Bulls, they will try to dig themselves out of the tailspin that has USF in seventh place out of the eight Big East teams.
“Our football team is certainly down, about as down as you can get,” he said. “We’ll rise up. I don’t have any doubt about that. We have to see if we can get together and find our football team a week from tomorrow on national TV against Connecticut.”