New Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood got the most important win of his young coaching career, leading the Scarlet Knights to a 23-13 win at South Florida on Thursday night. It's hard to walk away from this game feeling particularly good about the coaching job either head coach did tonight. South Florida committed four turnovers including a kickoff return that nobody on the team ever touched. Rutgers, on the other hand, committed 11 penalties (officially, they were actually flagged for far more). But Rutgers got a road win in the conference against a team many predicted would contend for the conference title. Rutgers answered some of its questions about the coach and about the quarterback play. The outcome leaves South Florida and South Florida fans with a lot more questions.
Coming into the season, outsiders expected Rutgers to be outstanding on defense. The biggest questions were how the team would play under new head coach Kyle Flood and would a reliable quarterback emerge. Through three games, the Scarlet Knights are 3-0, have a jump on the conference race, and the single biggest decision the new head coach has made, picking Gary Nova, has paid off royally. Nova wasn't perfect, but he finished the game 23 of 42 for 272 yards and a touchdown and was stellar on third down. The Scarlet Knights finished the game having converted 8 of 19 third down attempts. Rutgers will have an opportunity to make a national statement on the road at Arkansas soon and figures to be squarely in the hunt for a Big East title in 2012.
While Rutgers is answering questions early in this season, South Florida is only raising questions about this team and the head coach. The Bulls made the decision to extend Skip Holtz despite the team finishing 5-7 last season. Since the Bulls 2010 bowl win over Clemson, however, the Bulls are just 7-8 and have won just one Big East game. South Florida also fell to 0-9 all time on Thursday night games. Tonight, Holtz's offense again looked unimaginative and couldn't run the ball to keep defenses off of Daniels. Eventually either the lack of development as a passer by BJ Daniels or the lack of a better option on the roster has to also be laid at the feet of a South Florida coaching staff that hasn't won a meaningful game in a long, long time.
It's a long season. If there's anything we've learned from Big East play the past few years it's that early season losses aren't the end of the world. UConn started 2-4 and won the Big East in 2010. Last year Louisville started 2-4 and came back to win a share of the Big East title. But, the early season struggles for those teams were somewhat of a surprise and you couldn't help but think improvement was coming. For South Florida, it's part of a much larger, worrisome trend that has spanned nearly two full seasons.