NCF Nation: St. Petersburg 2009 bowls

Instant analysis of Rutgers' 45-24 win over Central Florida in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Saturday night:

How the game was won: Rutgers managed to take advantage of Central Florida's shaky pass defense to the tune of 294 passing yards by freshman quarterback Tom Savage. The defense, meanwhile, held UCF to just 32 rushing yards and came up with two key interceptions -- including one for a touchdown -- as the Scarlet Knights cruised to victory.

Turning point: Billy Anderson's interception and 19-yard return for a score late in the first half gave Rutgers a commanding 28-17 lead going into the half.

Player of the game: Mohamed Sanu. The Rutgers true freshman scored three touchdowns -- two out of Wildcat formation rushes and one on a reception -- and had 147 total yards.

Unsung hero of the game: Tim Brown was doubtful with a leg injury and appeared to be injured again during the game. Still, he managed four catches for 100 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown that was reminiscent of his grab-and-go to beat Connecticut earlier this year.

Stat of the game: Brynn Harvey, who had rushed for more than 100 yards in his last three regular season games, was held to 30 yards on 13 carries by the Rutgers defense.

What it means: It's hard to say the St. Petersburg Bowl means a whole lot. Still, Rutgers wrapped up a nine-win season and has something to build upon going into next year, especially with true freshmen Savage and Sanu playing so well. They should be stars in the Big East for a long, long time. As for Central Florida, the Knights showed they aren't quite ready for the Big East yet despite talk of the Knights being a potential addition to the league in the near future.
Central Florida’s great season came to an unfortunate end after they weren’t able to top Rutgers in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Saturday. The Knights finish the season with eight wins for only the fourth time since becoming a member of the FBS.

How the game was won: Rutgers was able to limit Central Florida’s running game and convert quarterback Brett Hodges' two turnovers into touchdowns. After playing even with the Scarlet Knights early, Central Florida couldn’t get closer than four points and Rutgers was able to secure the game in the second half.

Turning point: Rutgers linebacker Damaso Munoz intercepted Brett Hodges on the first drive of the game, setting up Rutgers' first score, and set the tone for the rest of the game. Hodges threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown.

Stat of the game: Central Florida’s 32 rushing yards is the second-lowest total of the season. The Knights had just 15 rushing yards against Southern Miss on Sept. 12. Running back Brynn Harvey, who came into the game off three consecutive 100-yard rushing games, had just 30 yards on 13 carries.

Unsung hero of the game: UCF quarterback Rob Calabrese came in late in the fourth quarter for injured starter Brett Hodges and led the Knights on a 10-play, 75-yard drive to cut the lead to 38-24 with 2:23 remaining.

What it means: While this is not the way Central Florida wanted to end its season, it has to be encouraged by the late play of Calabrese and running back Jonathan Davis, who are the future of the team. Both came in during the fourth quarter and helped the Knights score their final touchdown. There are a lot of young players on this team and the experience will serve them in 2010.
Central Florida (8-4)

1. Ball security: Rutgers leads the country in turnover margin and several of the Scarlet Knights' points come off miscues. Central Florida ranks 16th in the country in turnover margin with just 18 turnovers, but five have come in the past three games.

2. Get Harvey involved: Central Florida has not lost a game this season when running back Brynn Harvey has rushed for more than 100 yards. In fact, those games have been among the highest-scoring games for the Knights this season. Harvey has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games and he’ll need to keep that going to give the Knights a chance.

3. Disrupt the offense: All year, the Central Florida defense has been the strength of the team and it will be called upon again to keep a streaky Rutgers offense in check. Rutgers can put points on the board, but quarterback Tom Savage also has a propensity for interceptions. The Knight have to come after him hard early to give Savage something to think about.
The all-Knights bowl promises to be a defensive affair between two of the more defensively sound teams in the country. Central Florida comes into this game beaming with confidence after an eight-win regular season that included a win over a ranked Houston team.

WHO TO WATCH: Bruce Miller, DE, UCF

Miller is the reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and the Knights' best weapon against the stifling Rutgers offense. Miller ranks fifth in the country in sacks and 18th in tackles for loss. His job will be keeping Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage and running back Joe Martinek in check.

WHAT TO WATCH: UCF’s offense

While UCF hasn’t consistently had an explosive offense this year, it was spectacular in the final three games of the regular season averaging 40 points per game. In all three of those games, running back Brynn Harvey rushed for more than 100 yards. He had just two 100-yard games prior to that. UCF can score in bunches and makes a lot of its offensive fortune off of defensive turnovers.

WHY TO WATCH: See how UCF stacks up

Everyone always likes to see how the non-AQs stack up against their AQ brethren, especially considering how well Central Florida has played this season. The Knights lost both of their games against AQ opponents by an average of 26 points, but UCF’s best two offensive players didn’t play against Texas.

PREDICTION: Central Florida has been good this season, but it hasn’t seen a defense with as many blitzing packages as Rutgers is going to show in this one. This will be a defensive and low-scoring game. Rutgers squeaks out a 17-14 win.

St. Petersburg Bowl preview

December, 18, 2009
Quick glance at Saturday night's St. Petersburg Bowl matchup between Rutgers (8-4) and Central Florida (8-4):

WHO TO WATCH: Rutgers wide receiver/occasional quarterback Mohamed Sanu. With Tim Brown either out or very limited in this game, Sanu becomes the team's No. 1 big-play weapon. He was very effective late in the season operating out of the Wildcat formation, and look for a lot more of that on Saturday night. He could also be quarterback Tom Savage's main option in the passing game. The true freshman had an outstanding regular season and needs to come up big in the postseason for Rutgers to win this game.

WHAT TO WATCH: It should be strength versus strength on the edge when Rutgers' offense lines up against the Central Florida defense. UCF defensive ends Bruce Miller -- who was the Conference USA defensive player of the year -- and Jarvis Geathers combined for 23 sacks and 30 tackles for loss this season. While the Scarlet Knights' offensive line didn't live up to expectations this season, they still have two excellent tackles in Anthony Davis and Kevin Haslam. It's most likely Davis' last game in a Rutgers uniform as the junior expected to declare for the NFL draft. Davis and Haslam need to hold off the pass rush and try to create some running lanes against the Knights, who ranked fourth in the FBS in rush defense this season.

WHY TO WATCH: Because it's the first night of bowl season, and haven't you missed football? Plus, Central Florida wants to impress the Big East as a potential future member, and this could be a good audition. This game could also serve as a springboard to next year for the Scarlet Knights.

PREDICTION: Neither team will find it easy to score, but Rutgers has more athletes across the board and will create field-position advantages with its defense and special teams. Scarlet Knights over regular Knights, 21-17.