|Rutgers Ray Rice hopes mini slump is over as Scarlet Knights prepare for USF|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 16 October 2007 08:21|
The 35-carry, 202-yard performance was the best game by an opposing running back against South Florida last season. That was 14 games ago. It was also the last time the Bulls allowed a 100-yard rusher.
That streak will be on the line Thursday night when No. 2 South Florida (6-0) faces Rice and the Scarlet Knights (4-2) at Rutgers Stadium.
``He is tremendous,'' South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said of Rice. ``He can bounce outside, inside; he is strong and they have awfully good blocking. It is going to be a really tough challenge for us. We know that.''
The Bulls showed how good their run defense was last weekend when they limited Kevin Smith of Central Florida to 55 yards on 18 carries. He came into the game averaging 172 yards - tops in the nation.
Rice pushed his rushing average to 136.3 yards with a 196-yard, three-touchdown effort in a 38-14 win over Syracuse on Saturday. The big game snapped a mini-slump. The junior was held under 100 yards in consecutive losses to Maryland and Cincinnati.
``Everybody just came to play,'' Rice said of the Syracuse game. ``That's one thing we emphasize. If we continue to play, things will open up for us.''
Rice also knows that South Florida will be looking for him.
``I mean, it's something I expect,'' Rice said. ``They have great athletes, just as we do. Everybody has to come and play their best football.''
Rice was helped against Syracuse by a change on the offensive line. Highly touted freshman Anthony Davis, 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds, moved into the lineup at right guard ahead of Kevin Haslam.
It seemed to create a little more push and allowed Rice to get past the line of scrimmage. In the games where he has struggled - if you can call being limited to 97 and 94 yards struggling - Rice had trouble getting past the initial point of attack.
``Once I get going to the second level, that's when I'm best as a runner,'' Rice said. ``You have to get a play started for it to be successful.''
Quarterback Mike Teel also took some of the pressure off of Rice by throwing for 310 yards, including six connections with Kenny Britt for 176 yards.
Teel also found Rice with four passes for 29 yards, giving him 17 catches this season.
``He has really stepped up,'' Teel said of Rice. ``One of the biggest things that goes unnoticed is his pass protection. He sticks his face on people and let's them know he is there. He has been catching the ball out of the backfield and getting yards after the catch. He has been doing a tremendous job.''
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano can't say enough about Rice. The New Rochelle, N.Y., resident came into the season being touted as a Heisman Trophy hopeful after finishing seventh in the voting last year, and he has remained humble despite the onslaught of media attention.
``I think he's running harder than he ever has,'' Schiano said.
Syracuse coach Greg Robinson noted that Rice also benefits being 5-foot-9 and running behind a line that averages 6-foot-5 and 309 pounds.
``You don't always see him,'' Robinson said. ``He can make a cut, and he can explode, and he runs with real power. Sometimes, his size is to his advantage. But he can dart and dash. You give him 36 tries, and eventually, something is going to go good for him.''
If South Florida doesn't want to become the latest ranked team to fall, it will have to find a way to stop Rice from running wild again.