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 PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) -Rutgers freshman safety Joe Lefeged is earning a reputation as a hitter in the Big East Conference, and not everyone is happy about it.
Lefeged was named the conference's defensive player of the week on Monday, a day after Syracuse coach Greg Robinson labeled his hit on Orange quarterback Andrew Robinson this past weekend as ``a vicious blow'' and submitted a tape of it to conference officials for review.
``It doesn't bother me at all,'' Lefeged said of the allegations that his helmet-to-helmet hit was illegal. ``We are coached to play hard and that's all I am trying to do, play hard and get to the quarterback, get to the ball any way I can.''
Lefeged got to the ball a lot on Saturday in the 38-14 win over Syracuse in helping Rutgers (4-2) snap a two-game losing streak and get back on track for Thursday night's showdown with No. 2 South Florida (6-0).
Despite playing roughly 20 plays in the nickel package, the true freshman had a career-high six tackles, registered two sacks and forced a fumble, which came on his disputed hit on the quarterback late in the second quarter. He also had a quarterback pressure that led to a second-half interception by defensive end Jonathan Freeny, his roommate.
Lefeged wasn't sure whether there was helmet-to-helmet contact on the sack, but replays indicated it happened.
Greg Robinson would not go into detail on the hit again on Monday in the league's conference call, but he said his opinion about it had not changed.
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said that Lefeged had his hands up attempting to block the pass.
``Sometimes a quarterback either has to throw it and duck or go down,'' Schiano said. ``It's a contact game.''
Schiano said the conference has not talked to him about the hit, which was not called for a penalty. It also seems unlikely that Lefeged would have gotten a league award had the league found something wrong with the hit.
The helmet-to-helmet hit was the second one for Lefeged. He also had a hit on Jordan Steffy late in the first half against Maryland on Sept. 29, knocking the Terps' quarterback out of that game with a concussion.
Ironically, backup Chris Turner came off the bench and led Maryland to a 34-24 win, knocking Rutgers from the unbeaten ranks.
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen alleged that Rutgers was trying to hurt his quarterback. Schiano refused to talk about the allegation.
``I try not to pay too much attention toward it and continue to do what I am doing, do my job and play my one-eleventh on the defense and just help the team,'' Lefeged said of the Maryland incident.
Schiano said that Lefeged of Germantown, Md., has improved since the start of the season.
``Joe is now at the point where he's comfortable with all the adjustments and now what we're seeing is a guy that's playing at a high rate of speed,'' Schiano said. ``What happens to young players as they're thinking, they slow down and then it becomes more of a reaction. Joe's not quite at peak speed yet, but he's getting there.''
Rutgers will need Lefeged and the entire defense playing its best to shut down quarterback Matt Grothe and South Florida. The Bulls are coming off a 64-12 win over Central Florida.
``South Florida is a great team, they have a great offense and a great defense,'' said Lefeged, who is a solid 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. ``We have to get everything together. We feel confident coming into this game.''
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