College football | USF seeks to finish down year on up note at Rutgers

adell@bradenton.comDecember 7, 2013 

TAMPA -- For the second straight week, the USF football team might be perceived in a spoiler's role, but Bulls head coach Willie Taggart says that is the furthest thing from his mind.

USF (2-9) heads into its season finale on the road playing a Rutgers team (5-6) that needs a victory to become bowl eligible.

"We are not looking to be spoilers. We are trying to get a win for our seniors in their last game and for our underclassmen going into the offseason," Taggart said. "We want to build a good foundation for next season and for the program. We want to make ourselves happy."

Who has more to play for?

A lot of people would argue that might be USF.

The Bulls played their best game in last week's 23-20 loss to UCF with its struggling offense showing signs of life for the first time since the Houston game Oct. 31.

A win over UCF would have spoiled the Knights' chances of winning the American Athletic Conference. They won the title outright and snagged a BCS bowl bid Thursday night following Cincinnati's loss to Louisville.

USF might be struggling to score points and win games, but Rutgers is mired in a series of scandals that

never seem to go away.

Jevon Tyree quit the football team last month after charging that he was bullied by the team's defensive coach. Former Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike White was fired after the school said he abused his players.

That incident followed the controversial hiring of Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann.

After Hermann was hired, some of her former volleyball players at the University of Tennessee said she was emotionally and verbally abusive. There were other incidents where persons who had issues with Hermann said she did not tell the truth, including Tyree's parents.

On the football field, Rutgers has lost three straight and five of its past six games. The Knights have given up a combined 121 points in their current three-game losing streak, which provides hope for USF's offensive woes.

USF's defense has been stellar, but it needs help. The Bulls forced UCF to turn the ball over five times and came away with only 10 points off those takeaways.

"You get turnovers like that you want to get some points. You must take advantage of those situations and we were not able to do that," Taggart said. "But our guys are learning from it. We are getting close. They (UCF) made the play when they needed to and we didn't, but our guys played hard."

Rutgers is last in the AAC and 109th nationally out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in pass efficiency defense, while USF ranks 121st in pass efficiency. The Scarlet Knights are ranked seventh in run defense.

USF freshman quarterback Mike White for the most part handled himself well against UCF until throwing an interception on the Bulls' final drive. Taggart has stressed establishing a run-first offense, but with Rutgers' weakness in pass defense he might try a different approach.

The Bulls' defense has been solid the past four games. It ranks 21st in total defense under defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and has allowed only 266 yards per game in its past three games.

"No doubt the defense has improved dramatically, and we said from the beginning to build a great team we want a great defense and be able to run the football," Taggart said.

Game time temperature for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff is expected to be in the mid-20s, which would mark the coldest game for USF this season. Taggart refused to discuss the weather.

"I have no idea what you are talking about. We are going to play a football game on Saturday, and that's all that matters," Taggart said when asked if weather would be a factor.

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