All of Rutgers's troubles in 2010 seemed to culminate in their loss to Pittsburgh. An offense that has struggled in pass protection all year was completely ineffective. Quick three and outs and awful field position/special teams created an awful burden on the team's defense, which finally faltered after a string of good performances. A bye week could not have come as a more opportune time, as the battered Scarlet Knights now look to regroup and retool before this week's game against USF.
Rutgers has registered four straight victories in this series, with the last two being especially lopsided. It remains to be seen how much bad blood will carry over after USF sacked their old head coach (Jim Leavitt) for insubordination. 2010 is proving to be a transition year for Skip Holtz, who is dealing with a lot of roster turnover from the team that finished sixth in the Big East during the past two years. Second-year quarterback B.J. Daniels has struggled in the air (outside of their upset of Cincinnati), which is understandable considering that the Bulls have lost several wide receivers to injury.
USF's defense ranks seventh nationwide in sacks, which could provide trouble for RU's dead-last offensive line. Not having to face injured end Craig Marshall will be a plus, but things have gotten so bad in Piscataway that Rutgers may well radically reshuffle their ineffective starting five up front. If that didn't create enough uncertainty, receiver Mohamed Sanu and several contributing skill position players are banged up at the moment. Oh, and with the offensive line incapable of protecting anyone, the quarterback competition is once again a dead heat between Chas Dodd and Tom Savage.
Outside of a miracle on offense, this one may well prove to be a defensive slugfest, with Rutgers trying to win by using the Wildcat formation, and forcing turnovers on defense and special teams. That formula has been effective in several of their team wins this year, and USF's offense has struggled in its own right. The Scarlet Knights will have to make up for the loss of key contributor Eric LeGrand at DT, dime back Marcus Cooper, and strongside 'backer Manny Abreu's absence badly hurts the team's depth in its lb corps. Regardless, the defense will have to find a way to bounce back from their setback against Pittsburgh and re-establish their winning ways.
Due to its abhorrent offense, Rutgers has not come anywhere close to living up to expectations this season. Fortunately, you can say the same for most of the other teams in the Big East, so the Scarlet Knights at 1-1 are still right in the thick of the conference race. With how they've had USF's number in recent years, they pretty much have to find a way to prevail. Any decent team would win this one by a decent margin. I don't know if you can say that for Rutgers this season, but USF is a game they have to win, because there won't be many more opportunities to make up ground if they can't.
Rutgers plays USF at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night in Tampa. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.