TAMPA, Fla. — Jawan Jamison doesn’t mind the comparisons to a young Ray Rice. At Rutgers, they’re inevitable.
The 5-foot-8, 200-pound running back ran for 151 yards and a touchdown Thursday night, helping the Scarlet Knights begin Big East play with a 23-13 victory over South Florida.
It was the fourth consecutive 100-yard game for the sophomore dating to last season, the longest string of 100-yard performances by a Rutgers player since Rice had seven straight to end the 2007 season.
“That’s cool. I’m trying to get where he’s at,” Jamison said about Rice, who has developed into one of the top running backs in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. “That’s all I can say. I’m trying to get where he’s at.”
Gary Nova threw for 277 yards and one touchdown for the Scarlet Knights, who snapped a 13-13 tie on Federico’s 22-yard field goal with 2:48 remaining. A little over a minute later, Jamison scored on a 41-yard run after USF (2-1, 0-1) turned the ball over on downs at its own 42.
Jamison, who began the season with 100-yard days against Tulane and Howard, amassed his season-high total on a school single-game record 41 carries.
“I told him during the week to get ready for 35,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “I did not anticipate 41, but he did an excellent job with it.”
Mark Harrison scored on a 6-yard reception, Federico also kicked field goals of 51 and 30 yards, and Rutgers (3-0, 1-0) forced four turnovers — three while the Scarlet Knights were taking control in the third quarter.
“What it boiled down to is we turned the ball over ... and we couldn’t get off the field third down defensively,” South Florida coach Skip Holtz said. “We just made too many mistakes to come away with a victory.”
No conference team has had more success against USF since the Bulls entered the Big East in 2005 than Rutgers, which has won six of the past seven meetings.
Most of that success came under former coach Greg Schiano, who left Rutgers for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after last season.
Schiano got his first NFL win at Raymond James Stadium last Sunday and was able to make the short trip from his office to catch some of the nationally televised game before heading to the visitor’s locker room to congratulate his old team.
The Scarlet Knights remained unbeaten under Schiano’s replacement, improving to 3-0 for the first time since in five years.
“There are no easy wins in the Big East Conference,” Flood said. “From top to bottom, it’s as competitive a conference as there is in the country.”
B.J. Daniels completed 15 of 33 passes for 242 yards for USF, which fell to 0-9 in Thursday night TV appearances. The senior threw three interceptions and didn’t get the Bulls into the end zone until he completed a 30-yard pass to Derrick Hopkins, setting up Demetri Murray’s 1-yard TD run to make it 13-all with 9 minutes left.
Nova was 23 of 42 with one interception. Tim Wright had eight receptions for 125 yards, including a 46-yarder that led to Federico’s go-ahead field goal.
Maikon Bonani kicked field goals of 41 and 46 yards to help USF to a 6-3 halftime lead. The Bulls were hardly dominating up to that point.
Rutgers outgained them by more than a two to one margin in the opening quarter, yet trailed 6-0 because of a string of mistakes that that stymied the offense. In addition to being penalized four times for 35 yards, the Scarlet Knights had a 42-yard field goal attempt blocked and punt returned Mason Robinson fumbled at his own 36 to set Bonani’s second field goal.
Daniels threw three touchdown passes of 50-plus yards, two of them in the final 2:37 to help USF rally for a 32-31 victory at Nevada. But Rutgers has done as good a job as any team in containing the Bulls’ dual-threat quarterback during a career in which Daniels has accounted for more than 8,700 yards total offense.
The Scarlet Knights intercepted four of Daniels’ passes while limiting him to 438 yards passing and three touchdowns in three previous meetings. They won two of those matchups, blanking USF 31-0 in 2009 and 20-17 a year ago, when Rutgers won in overtime after Bonani missed a 27-yard field goal on the final play of regulation.
Daniels’ success was sporadic again. Much of his 125 yards passing in the opening half came on two completions — a 44-yarder to Andre Davis and a 58-yarder to Terrence Mitchell. Neither led to points, with Rutgers stopping the Bulls on downs after one of the catches and cornerback Brandon Jones intercepting a pass at the Scarlet Knights 23 following the other.
Marcus Cooper recovered a fumble on a punt return to set up a field goal and Jamal Merrell’s interception led to Nova’s TD pass to Harrison that put Rutgers ahead 13-6 midway through the third quarter. The Scarlet Knights clung to the lead heading into the fourth quarter, thanks to Wayne Warren’s end zone interception that stopped a drive Daniels led to the 5-yard line.
“You don’t ever stop B.J. Daniels. He made some spectacular plays today, some deep completions,” Flood said. “He makes plays out of broken plays. He makes the plays he should. We were fortunate to hold that team to the points that we did. It was a great effort by our defense.”