After months of mixing and matching, followed by a couple of games of trial and error, the Bulls finally appear to have found a solid starting five up front.
After two games at right guard, the Bulls slid senior Cameron Ruff back to center -- where he started all 13 games last season -- and plugged in redshirt sophomore Billy Atterbury at guard. The result: 376 rushing yards and nine explosive plays (20-plus yards) in a 47-23 romp of Illinois.
USF logged nine or more explosive plays only twice last season (Memphis, UCF).
"The o-line performed extremely well," said senior RB Darius Tice, who finished with 105 yards on only 12 carries. "Many times I got the ball and wasn't getting touched 'til way down the field. Sometimes I'm running the ball and they're next to me, and I'm 20 yards down the field. ... They did a great job."
The only glaring hiccups were some early penalties, with Atterbury getting whistled twice (for holding and a false start) in a three-play span in the first half. QB Quinton Flowers was sacked twice, but his 25 official carries were more than double any other player on the field.
"I feel like we did more finishing on blocks, but we still can finish more," senior LG Jeremi Hall said. "I just feel like we out-conditioned them really. We ran a lot of plays (98) and we just kept going. And none of us were really tired, we were just having fun."
INJURY UPDATE: WR Deangelo Antoine, who had a career-best four catches against Illinois, suited up Tuesday but didn't practice, Coach Charlie Strong said. No other player appeared sidelined (i.e. on crutches, in a walking boot, etc.) during the session open to reporters.
"(Antoine) kind of ran around, just don't know where we are right now," Strong said. W"e've still got two days before we make that decision on whether he's gonna play or not."
ODDS AND ENDS: Former Buccaneers Booger McFarland and Joey Galloway will share analyst duties on ESPN's broadcast Thursday. Dave Flemming will handle play-by-play and Laura Rutledge will work the sidelines. ... Count Darius Tice among those who believe USF's attendance will improve. "From this point going forward, I feel like it's only gonna get better because they came out and we put on a show," he said. Actual attendance for Friday's game was 27,619. ... Dominance factoid of the day -- USF has won 13 of its last 15 home games, with 12 of those victories coming by two or more touchdowns. ... USF's 88 first downs are tied for third nationally. ... DT Bruce Hector recorded his 13th career sack against Illinois, moving him into the program's top 10 in that category.
AUDIBLE: "It was just one guy breaking down, a guy comes inside. Then the next one got blocked, and then after that we got it corrected. It's all fixable, so it's a matter of us just putting the right people out there and getting the right people in place, and those things won't happen." -- Strong on the two kicks (one PAT, one field goal) Illinois blocked in the first quarter Friday (Note: Temple has a nation-best 12 blocked kicks since the start of the 2015 season)...
TAMPA — The NCAA's 18-month probe into USF's men's basketball program has ended with the Bulls — proactive in the investigation from the start — avoiding major penalties.
The NCAA announced Tuesday its Division I Committee on Infractions (COI) panel determined former Bulls assistant Oliver Antigua knowingly violated its rules by providing prospects with impermissible housing, transportation and meals, then denying his involvement twice before coming clean....
GAINESVILLE — For the first time this season, Florida coach Jim McElwain didn't have to answer a question about who his starting quarterback will be Saturday.
Feleipe Franks' game-winning, 63-yard touchdown pass against Tennessee erased any lingering doubts that the job is his against Kentucky, and beyond.
"I think it's just kind of a complete maturation and body of work from the time he was here as an early enrollee," McElwain said. "He's done a good job of getting better, especially with his feet."...
Brian Gregory's six-month anniversary as USF men's basketball coach came and went last Thursday, when most of us were too consumed with football and post-Irma recovery to observe it.
So instead, we'll observe this: His 2018 recruiting class -- a trio of three-star commitments -- currently is ranked first in the American Athletic Conference by at least two major scouting services.
Quite inconspicuously, Gregory and his staff have scoured Gregory's old recruiting turf (Georgia) and his native neck of the woods (Chicago) to land three prospects far more solid than spectacular. Considering the mess these coaches inherited, it might rank as USF's biggest upset since the 2014 SMU victory.
"Overall, there might not be any superstars here," Rivals national hoops analyst Corey Evans said, "but there (are) three good pieces that USF should be able to build upon and build with."...
A look at Temple, which plays No. 21 USF on Thursday at Raymond James Stadium
'16 record: 10-4 (7-1 AAC). Won AAC title, lost to Wake Forest 34-26 in Military Bowl
'17 record: 2-1 (lost to Notre Dame 16-49; def. Villanova 16-13, def. Massachusetts 29-21)
Coach: Geoff Collins (first season, 2-1)
The breakdown: The nine sacks the Owls recorded against winless UMass represent the highlight of their young season. Clearly, this isn't the same team that embarrassed USF en route to the league title last year. Collins, Florida's defensive coordinator the previous two seasons, had to rebuild the first and second levels of Temple's defense, and find a quarterback to replace 16-year veteran Phillip Walker. Despite facing a winless team and a I-AA foe (Villanova), Temple still ranks 98th nationally in total offense (356.7 ypg), 118th in total defense (488.7 ypg), and 90th in ESPN's Football Power Index (For advanced-metrics fans, the Owls' Offensive S&P ranks 96th nationally.). One returner Bulls fans will recognize is 240-pound FB Nick Sharga, who mostly annihilated USF's would-be gap-fillers as Temple ran for 319 yards last season. Also back is RB Ryquell Armstead (210 rushing yards vs. the Bulls) and Jefferson High alumnus Ventell Bryant
(54 receptions in 2016). New QB Logan Marchi hasn't thrown a pick in 106 attempts, but Armstead and Co. haven't gotten it going on the ground (94.3 ypg). On the other side, the Owls held both UMass and Villanova to fewer than 100 rushing yards, but were absolutely gashed by Notre Dame (422). On Friday, they face the nation's 13th-ranked rushing offense (281.3 ypg).
Odds and ends: Bryant and fourth-year junior DB Jyquis Thomas (Plant City) are the Owls' only two bay area players. ... Owls redshirt freshman DE Quincy Roche, who had three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against UMass, was named the AAC's Co-Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. ... PK Aaron Boumerhi nailed a career-best 52-yard field goal against the Minutemen.
Audible: "They have that aura about them where they're a physical football team, and you see that. Offense, they do a lot of different things, they give you a lot of different personnel groupings. ... Defense, they're very aggressive. They want to push the tempo on defense." -- USF Charlie Strong...
At last, Willie Taggart's weekly refrain about poor tackling and gap control no longer are audible.
The buzz over the resurrection of the "Bull Shark" defense has drowned it out.
After three games, USF ranks first in the American Athletic Conference (and 14th nationally) in run defense (89.3 ypg). This time last year, after three games against a similar level of competition (Towson, Northern Illinois, Syracuse), the Bulls ranked 10th in the league and 82nd in Division I (161.0 ypg).
"It's just the energy and the will that we have on the defensive side," senior FS Tajee Fullwood said following Friday's 47-23 victory against Illinois, in which USF held the Illini to 67 rushing yards (45 on one play).
Coach Charlie Strong suggests energy and pride have converged to spark the apparent resurgence. Fullwood is among seven senior first-teamers maligned almost weekly last season, when the Bulls surrendered 482 yards (nearly 200 on the ground) per game.
"It's a combination of both because Coach BJ (Brian Jean-Mary) is very aggressive, and he has a way of getting the players ready to go play," Strong said, referring to his defensive coordinator.
"You look at his defense, a lot of the players we have are older players. They've heard a lot about the defense and what they didn't do, and now they're just working hard and proving to everybody what they can do."
The sturdiness doesn't stop with the run defense. The Bulls' eight interceptions are the second-most in the country, behind only Central Michigan (nine), and they rank 17th nationally in pass-efficiency defense (95.30).
AND ABOUT THAT OFFENSE: Despite two shaky opening games and a flag-infested opening half Friday, USF's offensive numbers remain solid.
USF is 13th nationally in rushing offense (281.3 ypg) and 14th in total offense (522.3). The passing numbers have taken a mild dip (241.0 ypg, 60th nationally), but the Bulls remain among 29 teams averaging 40 or more points a game.
INJURY UPDATE: Strong said he expects to have everyone available for Thursday night's AAC opener against Temple, but said WR Deangelo Antoine didn't practice Monday morning. Antoine hobbled off the field in the second half and didn't return.
Strong added WR Darnell Salomon, who didn't suit up against Illinois (unspecified reasons), will be available Thursday.
ODDS AND ENDS: The AAC announced Monday the Bulls' Sept. 30 game at East Carolina will kick off at noon and be televised on the CBS Sports Network. ... Actual attendance for Friday's game (per the Tampa Sports Authority) was 27,619. ... Fullwood ranks ninth nationally in punt returns (18.6 yards per attempt). ... Senior Jonathan Hernandez currently leads the AAC in punting (42.7 yards per attempt). ... Fourth-year junior WR Stanley Clerveaux's two catches (for 12 yards) Friday were one more than his career total entering the game. ... When asked Monday about the Bulls' 16 penalties against Illinois, Strong said, "It's more of just looking at 'em and make sure we play better football and be a better disciplined team. There's no reason for so many penalties."...
As one would expect, our own Matt Baker has spent a hearty portion of this splendid Sunday afternoon trying to explain via Twitter (and this blog post) why he left USF off his latest Associated Press ballot.
As if he were the only one.
Eighteen of the 61 voters (29.5 percent) still kept the Bulls out their personal top 25 in the wake of USF's 47-23 romp of Big Ten foe Illinois. That group includes two other Florida-based voters: veteran Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley and the Orlando Sentinel's Safid Deen, who primarily covers FSU.
By contrast, Bob Asmussen of the Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette had USF at No. 14 on his ballot, second-highest of any voter.
"I tend to go by quality of wins," Dooley said Sunday. "Felt there were tons of teams with better ones (than USF). Not all 3-0 records are created equally."
Still, USF -- at No. 21 -- remains the highest-ranked Group of Five team, one spot ahead of San Diego State, which upset Stanford 20-17 late Saturday.
Here's a week-by-week look at the number of voters who kept the Bulls off their respective ballot
Week 4: 18
Week 3: 25
Week 2: 21
Like the rest of his peers, Quinton Flowers sputtered through the season's first eight quarters. Periodically, he was getting sacked -- and frustrated. His pocket wasn't moving, nor was the needle on his Heisman odds.
And the grim presumption was, his already-remote chances to capture college football's most coveted individual prize had petered out before Labor Day.
Then came Friday night, when a national TV audience saw Flowers, circa 2016. Seemingly suppressed in lackluster wins against San Jose State and Stony Brook, Flowers was unleashed in USF's 47-23 romp of Illinois. He improvised in the pocket, benefited from higher-percentage throws. He dashed, darted, dodged.
And by the end of his 386-yard, five-touchdown night, he might -- just might -- have re-entered the Heisman discussion.
"I told the guys, 'I'm just gonna go out there and be myself, and just play like myself,'" Flowers said.
He did it on a night when his team had the national spotlight all to itself.
Fortunately, Heisman candidacy can be a fickle thing, and Heisman voters can possess short-term memories. Presume, for a moment, that Charlie Strong and offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert continue affording Flowers the latitude they gave him Friday.
Such profusion could become a weekly occurrence, and suddenly Stony Brook falls farther into the recesses of the nation's consciousness. Granted, skepticism will remain over the quality of USF's schedule and the viability of a Group of Five player winning the Heisman.
But the numbers -- and possibly an undefeated Bulls season -- will be too much to simply ignore.
"It's amazing because the guy can do so much, and he'll probably tell you he left a few yards out on the field," Strong said after Friday's game. "But if we can get those numbers and he can continue to improve, then we have a chance to really be a special team."
And Flowers has a chance -- albeit a slim one -- to get to New York....
TAMPA — A quirky NFL stipulation precluded USF from having the Raymond James Stadium end zones adorned with their logo Friday, and perhaps the barrenness was fitting.
This was a blank-slate game if there ever was one, a chance for arguably the most maligned 2-0 team in America to start fresh. With Floridians desperate for a post-Irma pick-me-up, USF had incentive, inspiration (a packed student section among the announced crowd of 35,404) and an ESPN audience....
USF's special teams are unacceptable. Senior Emilio Nadelman's first two kicks Friday — a short field goal and PAT — were blocked, the latter resulting in an Illinois scoop-and-score. For those counting at home, that's two blocked punts and two blocked kicks in three games. Before calling for special teams coach Justin Burke's head, bear in mind that Charlie Strong's special teams struggled just as miserably at Texas last season (and Burke wasn't in charge of them).
So the Bulls were penalized 14 times in the first half alone, and senior defensive tackle Deadrin Senat has been tossed for targeting twice now in three games. Sorry, undefeated and undisciplined simply can't co-exist....
TAMPA — She earned her mathematics degree from Florida A&M in 1975 and taught the subject for 36 years at Tampa Bay Tech, but one equation left Karen McCloud Anderson stumped.
How many folks annually shoehorned themselves into her mother's Jackson Heights home to party on the eve of the old Florida Classic at Tampa Stadium between her beloved Rattlers and Bethune-Cookman?
Anderson, whose 85-year-old mother also is a FAMU alumnus (Class of 1953), thought a moment, then sighed....
The USF men's basketball team will open its American Athletic Conference slate Dec. 28 at home against Houston, the league announced Friday.
The entire conference schedule was revealed and can be seen here. Combined with USF's non-conference schedule released earlier, the Bulls' 2017-18 slate now is complete.
The non-conference highlight is a Nov. 19 game at Indiana and a home game against former longtime conference rival Charlotte on Dec. 21.
Because each team plays seven conference opponents twice and four only once, neither AAC newcomer Wichita State nor Connecticut travel to the Sun Dome this year. The Bulls play at Wichita State on Jan. 7 (4 p.m., CBS Sports Network), and visit UConn on Feb. 7 (7 p.m., ESPNU).
No time has been set for the Houston game on Dec. 28, but it will be broadcast on either ESPNU or ESPNews. UCF visits the Sun Dome on Jan. 20 (6 p.m., ESPNU)....
TAMPA — In an effort to salvage its weather-battered league schedule, the American Athletic Conference on Thursday announced a litany of changes to its slate, including the rescheduling of several USF games.
The tweaks allow the Bulls' game at Connecticut, originally scheduled for last weekend but called off due to Hurricane Irma, to be played Nov. 4 in East Hartford. The USF-Houston game, originally set for Nov. 4 at Raymond James Stadium, will be Oct. 8 instead....
TAMPA — On a sultry Monday morning at the University of Tampa's Pepin-Rood Stadium, Donnie Abraham had no choice but to switch from distracted rookie to dialed-in one, and pronto.
His first day of NFL employment — July 22, 1996 — was upon him. A Buccaneers third-round pick out of East Tennessee State, Abraham was embarking on the first practice of Tony Dungy's first training camp as Tampa Bay's coach. In this bygone NFL generation, first impressions took precedence even over firstborns....
In an effort to salvage its weather-battered league schedule, the American Athletic Conference announced a litany of changes to its slate, including the rescheduling of several USF contests.
The tweaks will allow the Bulls' game at Connecticut, originally slated for last weekend, to be played Nov. 4 in East Hartford. The USF-Houston game, originally set for Nov. 4 at Raymond James Stadium, will be played Oct. 28 instead.
The USF-Cincinnati contest, initially set for Oct. 28 in Tampa, moves to Oct. 14, when the Bulls were set to host Massachusetts for their homecoming....