Of course we did not see that coming, and tons of credit to the USF players, coaches, and staff for finding a way to win their AAC opener. To fight and play hard after the beginning of this season showed great character, and all involved deserve a hearty congratulations for the win. Just when it seemed the late game demons of the Holtz New Era would rear their ugly heads again, the Bulls found a way to hang on for victory. The Bus finally left the station, and it was a joy to behold.
From the stands it was as nerve wracking late in the fourth quarter as any USF game in years, which doesn't make a lot of sense for an 0-4 team. If you told me before the game I'd be almost nauseous the entire final period, I never would have believed you. Why would I be standing and screaming for USF to hang on in front of almost dozens of people and hundreds of empty red seats around me? This game doesn't matter one iota in the long run... right?
Wrong. 0-12 is off the table, which is important as that's a sword no team wants hanging over its head. Learning how to close out games and win is an important skill that can only be gained through experience, and going 11 months without a victory makes that easy to forget. Plus players need to be reminded of why they do this every day. Football hurts, and that victory will make this week of practice that much easier to take.
USF played with passion, conviction, and for each other, which matters when rebuilding a program from pillar to post. Good on you gentlemen, and thanks for hanging in there.
Let's start to sort through it all.
FIVE turnovers from UC! The Bulls got two interceptions from Mark Joyce (or, you know, as many as the ENTIRE DEFENSE HAD DURING THE WHOLE FREAKING SEASON LAST YEAR), two fumble recoveries (on four fumbles), and a blocked field goal by Mike McFarland that went 75 yards to the paint on a runback by freshman Nate Godwin. A defense that has struggled to make plays all year imposed its will with a heretofore unseen ferocity on Saturday.
The D also conceded only 350 yards, and a mere 162 in the first three quarters (before the prevent defense started getting called, more on that later). Big adjustments were clear: Aaron Lynch playing as more of a rover/mike LB rather than with a hand on the ground most of the game. Blitzes coming from different angles. More pressure by the cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage. And it all seemed to indicate the players starting to pick up more of Chuck Bresnahan's system.
Only ONE turnover for USF! The Bus finally stopped breaking down on offense, not coughing up the rock once after Marcus Shaw's fumble on the game's second play from scrimmage. Bobby Eveld only had 122 yards passing on 11-17 attempts, but didn't fumble or throw a pick. That's most likely a trade Willie Taggart is more than willing to live with this season, as USF QB's had combined for six fumbles and five INT's in the first four games.
The kicking game: Marvin Kloss is quickly establishing himself as the man. 4-4 on field goals with a long of 52 yards. and 5/6 on touchbacks. Kloss has been outstanding at 7-8 from three on the season. For a team that's struggling to punch it in the end zone, #LikeAKloss is a very valuable hashtag to have. Also Mattias Ciabatti had 5 punts average 45 yards, including a 68-yard bomb that ended up as a 48-yard net via a touchback. When you struggle to score offensively you better be solid on special teams, and the Bulls came through on Saturday.
Marcus Shaw's Injury: Ugh. We don't know how long the unquestionable USF MVP through five games will be out, but losing your best offensive weapon on a team clamoring to score straight up stinks. Shaw was carted off in the second quarter and was seen on crutches later, but we most likely we won't get his status until Tuesday at earliest. The senior from Arcadia, Fla. has been an absolute trooper in green and gold this year, and building on the Saturday's success will be a lot easier with the Bulls featured back. Shaw's 110.4 yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry averages had been the lone bright spot for the Bulls offense in 2013, and before Mike Pierre picked up 64 yards replacing #20 on Saturday, all of USF's other running backs had combined for 40 yards total on the season.
The prevent defense in the 4th quarter: There was clear frustration from the stands with the coverage of the Bulls late in the game. USF rushed three and dropped eight into coverage basically every snap of UC's last two scoring drives, and weren't able to get to quarterback Brendon Kay at all. Giving up 188 yards in the 4th period, even when attempting to keep the clock moving as USF was, is just far too much. We all know prevent often prevents you from winning, and USF did a terrible job late.
Yes they did get that huge 4th down stop with 6:45 left at their own 11-yard line, and a great tackle by Ryne Giddins kept USF from having to sweat even more at the end. But it never should have gotten to that point. Don't forget Cinci shot themselves in the foot repeatedly late, and some better execution by them could have easily turned this into a loss.
The crowd: The worst USF crowd I've seen since an '04 noon kickoff against Pitt to close out a nightmare 4-7 season (remember when 4-7 was an unthinkable nightmare?) saw that win on Saturday. The announced official number from the Tampa Sports Authority was 15,919. This was my pic of the student section just after kickoff. There's only one way these stands will ever be full again, and we know that's probably going to take awhile. But huge props to those that did show, and may no one ever question your loyalty to the program.
Steven Bench's injury: So what does Coach Taggart do now? Eveld played the best game of any Bulls QB this season by a wide margin against the Bearcats. But he's a senior, and this team isn't realistically competing for 2013 championships anywhere. Do you change horses again and try and win some games behind Eveld now? How does Bench getting injured to lose his job play as a factor in this decision? Do you play the sophomore Bench if he's healthy to help him develop for the future once all hope of a bowl game is lost? And how does redshirting freshman Mike White's development factor in here?
The USF quarterback saga hasn't really ended since BJ Daniels got hurt last season. First there were the transfer rumors involving seemingly every backup QB in FBS, this announcement before the season started, and then musical chairs behind center ever since. This week will be no different, and it will be very interesting to watch how Taggart continues to handle the position as the season unfolds.
UConn appears to be beatable: Let's not get carried away with Orange Bowl visions dancing in our heads (the Louisville team plane might need to crash to keep them from winning this league, especially since they get UCF at home on a Friday night), but UConn would seem to be a team with whom USF can compete.
This will be the Huskies first game after they finally and mercifully euthanized the Paul Pasqualoni Era following a 41-12 curb stomping by Buffalo nine days ago. Interim coach T.J. Weist inherits a horrendous roster from his predecessor (sound familiar?), but the tape shows 0-4 UConn has been just as terrible (and possibly worse) than USF was before Saturday. These are two bad football teams, but they both have different reasons for some newfound confidence: USF finally got a win, and UConn doesn't have the worst retread coaching hire since this clown leading them out of the tunnel anymore.
The spread opened with UConn as a 6 point favorite... and I can't believe I'm saying this, but take the points! UConn stinks!
The bottom of the AAC really sucks... but...
Memphis is a dumpster fire. Lost to Middle Tennessee, Arkansas State beat them at home... and then they almost beat what was considered a pretty good C. Florida team this weekend.
SMU blows like a West Texas wind. Beat Montana State 31-30, housed in all other games... but pushed a pretty decent Rutgers to overtime on Saturday.
Temple is just atrocious. Lost to Fordham and Idaho... and they're the only conference team we don't play this year. Hey, not fair!!
And we already discussed UConn. Lost to Towson, woodshedded by Buffalo.
The point is when mediocrity abounds, anything is possible. It seemed before like USF was significantly worse than even these teams above, but the heart, resolve, and adjustments (have we mentioned the wide receiver middle screens? Oh we LOVE the wide receiver middle screens!!) seen this weekend means they're probably on a par with the teams listed above. And that means some more wins could possibly be in the offing.
All we asked is that USF continue to improve game-to-game after the historically awful start, and they absolutely did against UC. Let's see if they can continue to move forward in Hartford on Saturday.
Don't worry, there are still plenty of good seats on Coach T's Bus and at Ray Jay. Let's hope the progress shown as this season continues starts to fill them.