You know how USF quarterback B.J. Daniels felt Monday afternoon?
Like he had just been in a car accident. He was not the only Bulls player to feel run down and sore following a hard fought, down-to-the-wire win against Nevada on Saturday, followed by a 5 ½-hour airplane ride home. USF landed in Tampa at 4 a.m. Sunday morning and a few short hours later, began preparations for its huge Big East opener tonight against Rutgers.
Both teams had only five days to prepare, but Rutgers got to play an FCS opponent at home last week, whereas USF had to endure an emotional slugfest that it pulled out at the last minute. How much of a factor that is remains to be seen.
“I hope we have enough gas in the tank,” Holtz said on the Big East coaches call this week.
In addition to pushing through, USF has to deal with the all-too familiar Thursday night bugaboo. Quite simply, the Bulls do not play well on Thursday nights. In fact, they are 0-8 in Thursday night games as Big East members, including 0-2 last season: a terrible loss at Pitt at the end of September, and a gut-wrenching loss to West Virginia to close the season without a bowl appearance.
Daniels has said he believes starting Big East play in September will help motivate his teammates. One frequent knock against this team has been its inability to win Big East games late in the season with much on the line.
This happens to be the earliest USF has ever opened Big East play.
“It’s really a test of our maturity, to see what kind of mental makeup we have, if we can push through the pain and soreness in such a big game,” Daniels said in a phone interview. “We’re looking forward to another challenge on Thursday. It’s something we signed up for. We want to be great, and if this is the price that we have to pay to do it, we’re all in.”
As for Rutgers, this is a team that has basically owned the Bulls, winning five of their seven meetings. Last year clearly showed that, as Rutgers erased a 17-3 fourth-quarter deficit and eventually won 20-17 in overtime.
Its defense has been as good as anticipated, ranking No. 6 in the nation in total defense and No. 4 in the nation in rushing defense. Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year Khaseem Greene has been as dominant as he was last season, recording double digit tackles in both games this season.
Rutgers has only allowed 12 points in two games, but a huge matchup to watch is going to be how the newly explosive USF passing game fares against the best secondary in the Big East. Another one to watch is how Rutgers’ passing game fares, after lackluster performances in the first two games.
Expectations have been high for this Rutgers team, which has a chance to open the season 3-0 for the first time since 2007. That is reinforced by this national television appearance, its first Thursday night game since 2009, with another to come against Louisville later in the season.
There is plenty on the line for both teams on a short week.
“We’re definitely looking forward to this matchup, the first Big East game, playing a great team in a hostile environment,” Rutgers receiver Brandon Coleman said. “We knew we were going to have a short week to prepare all offseason, so it’s not like it’s snuck up on us last minute. We knew it, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”