Rutgers 44, Cincinnati 9
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)—Brian Leonard and Ray Rice each ran for two touchdowns to lead Rutgers past Cincinnati 44-9 on Saturday and virtually ensure the program’s first bowl berth since 1978.
With representatives of the Insight Bowl looking on at Rutgers Stadium, the Scarlet Knights (7-4, 4-3 Big East) rushed for a season-high 337 yards and sacked Cincinnati quarterback Dustin Grutza nine times en route to winning their first seven-win season since 1992.
Rutgers has had only four winning seasons since 1984 and had a 25-game losing streak in the Big East from 1999-2003.
Which bowl will extend a bid to Rutgers could depend on whether Notre Dame defeats Stanford Saturday night. Under the terms of Notre Dame’s agreement with the Big East Conference, if the Fighting Irish lose and drop out of the BCS picture, they would take one of the Big East’s four non-BCS bowl slots.
At the beginning of the day Saturday, those four slots were occupied by West Virginia, South Florida, Louisville and Rutgers, with the fourth spot targeted for the Insight Bowl on Dec. 27 in Phoenix, Ariz.
Representatives of the Insight Bowl have expressed strong interest in inviting Rutgers. Two of them, Insight Enterprises CEO Stan Laybourne and bowl chairman Mike Allen, attended Saturday’s game and said a decision would most likely be made by Monday.
Laybourne said a bid already has been extended to Arizona State. Coincidentally, the Sun Devils were the Scarlet Knights’ opponent in the now-defunct Garden State Bowl in 1978.
Laybourne hinted Saturday that the bowl might invite Rutgers even if Notre Dame loses Saturday night and jumbles the picture.
“We’re looking forward to having Rutgers, whatever the landscape in the Big East,” he said.
If Rutgers is not invited to the Insight Bowl, it could wind up in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 31 in Charlotte, N.C., or fill another spot in a bowl that has a conference tie-in but no bowl-eligible team available.
Rutgers’ road to a likely bowl berth was not without bumps. After defeating Navy 31-21 on Oct. 29 to become bowl-eligible and ensure a winning record, the Scarlet Knights were thumped by South Florida and Louisville by a combined score of 101-36.
Their schedule allowed an extra week to prepare for the Bearcats, and Rutgers jumped on top early Saturday and did not let up. The Scarlet Knights held Cincinnati to minus-23 yards rushing and outgained them 574-146 in total yards.
Rice scored twice in the third quarter, on runs of 58 and 11 yards that gave Rutgers a 37-3 lead. The true freshman finished with 195 yards on 24 carries, giving him 1,012 yards for the season. Leonard ran 12 yards for a score in the first half and added a 1-yard run for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Ryan Hart threw 24 yards to tight end Clark Harris for a touchdown in the first half, and Jeremy Ito added three field goals for Rutgers, the last one coming on the final play of the first half after defensive end Jamaal Westerman sacked Grutza and forced a fumble at the Cincinnati 24.
Tight end Brent Celek scored Cincinnati’s lone touchdown in the fourth quarter on an 8-yard pass from Grutza.