PISCATAWAY, N.J. — University of South Florida coach Willie Taggart refused to acknowledge it. About a half-dozen USF players — including senior MLB DeDe Lattimore, playing his final game — came out shirtless for warm-ups.
But make no mistake, it was cold Saturday night at High Point Solutions Stadium when the Bulls faced the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in USF’s season finale.
It was 33 degrees at kickoff, tying for the second-coldest USF game ever (also 33 at Connecticut in 2005). The coldest was 29 degrees at West Virginia in 2008.
Taggart referred to it as “33 degrees warm.’’
“They (Rutgers) have to play in it as well,’’ Taggart said. “I don’t buy that, ‘You get used to the cold’ stuff. They don’t like it, either. But all that stuff is just drag. We just want our football team to be excited to play, whether it’s warm, cold, raining, clear or whatever.’’
Taggart’s message seemed to be received by USF players, although freshman QB Mike White wore gloves in a game for the first time.
“What do you mean, cold?’’ USF senior DE Julius Forte said before the game. “We’re from Florida. We take the sunshine wherever we go. We’re just going to grind through it. We’ve got great Under Armour (gear) that will keep us warm. We’re going to stay focused on the game and not the weather.’’
Junior WR Andre Davis finished this season with a flourish.
Through the first seven games, Davis had 20 receptions for 277 yards. In the next four games, coinciding with White becoming a starter and heading into Saturday night’s game, Davis had 28 receptions for 444 yards.
Davis had a 14-yard reception in the second quarter, marking the 30th consecutive game in which he has caught a pass. He moved into second place on USF’s all-time receiving yards list, passing Dontavia Bogan.
Davis said his resurgence coincided by White’s ascension to starter, but also reflected his attention to detail. He’s watching film, almost daily, and learning better how to break down coverage and find flaws in a secondary.
“I’m more confident in my preparation and more confident in the offense,’’ Davis said. “I’m getting chances to showcase my ability. That’s pretty much why I came (to USF), to make plays and have fun. Even though we’re not winning, I’m playing every game like it’s my last, just trying to leave my mark.’’
The injury front
USF was without two more starters — RT Quinterrius Eatmon (high ankle sprain) and TE Sean Price (neck), who were both injured at UCF on Nov. 29. Eatmon, who had started 34 of his 35 games at USF, was replaced by sophomore Mak Djulbegovic.
With last week’s dismissal of DB Mark Joyce, only six players started all 12 games for the Bulls this season — Lattimore, CB Kenneth Durden, OG Brynjar Gudmundsson, C Austin Reiter, DT Luke Sager and OT Darrell Williams.
Deering’s final act
Rutgers FS Jeremy Deering (Leto High) was among the 21 players honored on Senior Night. Deering saw time at receiver, running back and in the return game before shifting to defense.
“The success Jeremy has had here really speaks to his selflessness,’’ Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “He had a tremendous career.’’
Flood also praised freshman KR-PR Janarion Grant (Pasco), who has scored a pair of return touchdowns, including a 100-yard kickoff return on his first touch as a college player.
“Any time Janarion has the ball in his hands, he can make plays,’’ Flood said.
USF junior PK Marvin Kloss hit field goals of 24 and 29 yards during the first half, making him 18-for-23 this season and seemingly helping his candidacy for the Lou Groza Award. Turns out the final Groza votes were cast on Thursday. Kloss and the other Groza finalists — Texas’ Anthony Fera and Florida State’s Robert Aguayo — will be honored at a Tuesday banquet in West Palm Beach. Then they will attend Thursday’s Home Depot College Football Awards Show at Disney, where the winner will be announced. … It was “Kyle Flood Bobblehead Night’’ at Rutgers. But after a season of struggles for the Rutgers head coach, the souvenirs were distributed to fans as they exited the stadium. … USF begins next season against Western Carolina (Aug. 30), then has home games against Maryland (Sept. 6) and N.C. State (Sept. 13) before traveling to Wisconsin (Sept. 27). Then there are eight American Athletic Conference games. The league loses Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten), but adds East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa. Navy joins in 2015, when the AAC is expected to split into divisions and hold a championship game.