TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — When South Florida’s Maikon Bonani steps on the field against Rutgers, it will be difficult for him to not be reminded of one of the most disappointing moments of his career.
A year after booting a pair of field goals during a 1-point victory over the Scarlet Knights, USF’s career scoring leader missed a 27-yard attempt on the final play of regulation to contribute to an overtime loss that left him in tears last November.
The Big East rivals meet again in a nationally televised game tonight at 7:30, and one of the league’s most consistent kickers is eager to redeem himself.
“My coach said last year I didn’t lose the game. But I had the opportunity to win it and didn’t. So personally, there’s a grudge there. I’d like to perform very well.” Bonani said.
“As soon as the game was over, I was feeling pretty bad. I cried for like hours, nonstop. Just the feeling of not performing, but also letting everybody else down,” he added. “Walking into the locker room, seeing other people crying because of your mistake. Obviously it’s a team game, but I messed up.”
Coach Skip Holtz and Bonani’s teammates still don’t blame the kicker, who rebounded to make his last seven field goal attempts of 2011. The senior became the Bulls’ all-time scoring leader against Chattanooga two weeks ago.
“It hurt me,” Bonani said, “but I bounced back.”
No conference opponent has been tougher on South Florida (2-0) since the Bulls joined the Big East than Rutgers (2-0), which has won five of the past six meetings in the series. The Scarlet Knights have done as good a job containing B.J. Daniels, USF’s dual-threat quarterback, too.
Daniels has accounted for 8,617 yards total offense in his career, yet he’s completed less than 46 percent of his passes for 438 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions in three games against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have sacked him 11 times while also limiting him to 30 yards per game rushing.
The USF star said Rutgers typically plays him different than other opponents, using multiple defensive looks to disrupt the quarterback. The Scarlet Knights beat him 31-0 as a freshman and 20-17 last season in Piscataway, N.J., while Daniels threw for two touchdowns in a 28-27 victory at home two years ago.
“I always call them crazy, they do a lot of different things, try to confuse the offensive line, especially the QB; just a lot of moving parts,” Daniels said. “Seeing them year in and year out, you make sure you’re focused on your assignment and don’t get caught up in all the moving parts of their defense.”
The Scarlet Knights are off to another solid start, ranking second in the Big East in total defense after beating Tulane in their season opener and shutting out Howard 26-0 last week. A win over USF in their conference debut under first-year coach Kyle Flood would give them their best three-game start since 2007.
The architect of Rutgers’ recent success against USF was former coach Greg Schiano, who left the Scarlet Knights in January to take over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Thursday night’s game will be played in the same stadium where Schiano got his first NFL win last weekend.
In addition to hoping to start quickly in the Big East, Flood is appreciative of the opportunity to put Rutgers’ program on display in the heart of Florida’s rich recruiting ground, as well as for a primetime national television audience.
The Scarlet Knights’ offense features a couple of productive sophomore playmakers in running back Jawan Jamison, who’s aiming for his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing performance dating to last season, and receiver Brandon Coleman, who’s averaging over 30 yards per catch and 44.7 yards per TD reception for his career.
The last Rutgers running back to gain 100 yards in three straight games was Ray Rice, who had seven in a row to end the 2007 season.
“I think this week is going to tell us a lot. I really believe that. … This defense is a proven commodity,” Flood said.
“I think this will be a tremendous challenge for our offensive unit, all 11 guys, to continue some of the success we’ve had running the football.”
Meanwhile, Flood said containing Daniels remains a concern, despite the Scarlet Knights’ success against him in the past. Last week, USF rallied from an 11-point deficit to beat Nevada 32-31 on the road, with Daniels throwing TD passes of 52 and 56 yards in the final three minutes.
“We’ve certainly had some good defenses here in the past. I think what you see this year from B.J. is an even better version of what he already was, which is a guy that played at a high level. It will be a great challenge for us,” Flood said.
“Every week, obviously, we have a game plan for the offensive plays, the system that we’re going to see,” the coach added. “But I think you have to be ready to play good, sound defense every play because he’s got the ability to expose you on defense every time he has that ball in his hands.”
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