Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Better Late Than Never For South Florida

By Mel Suiter

It was the longest 15 minutes of University of South Florida football coach Charlie Strong's life as he paced the sidelines of CEFCU Stadium and watched his team give up 16 points, while his offense stumbled around and a player was ejected for a targeting penalty.

If it could go wrong for the Bulls, it did.

In the first quarter, San Jose State University did everything they wanted to do against the University of South Florida. Spartans football coach Brent Brennan did not expect his team to be leading the No. 19 team in the nation after the opening quarter 16-0, but luckily for Strong and the Bulls, the game of football has four quarters.

What did happen during the break between the first quarter and the second quarter will be a mystery. The Bulls did not play like they just woke up and tumbled out of bed.

The Bulls did listen and responded to Strong. The USF offensive line started to take control of the line of scrimmage, producing holes to run through and protecting Quinton Flowers when he dropped back into the pocket. The defense played with more emotion, forcing the Spartans to turn the ball over 3 times and the special teams responded with good punt coverage.

The offense for the Bulls rushed for 315 yards and the Bulls scored 42 unanswered points and defeated the San Jose State University, 44-22, to get the 2017 NCAA football season off on the right note for Strong.

"I just told them, 'Listen, guys, it's a 60-minute game and we're not going to panic,'" Strong said to his team during the break between quarters. "We still have a lot of football left out here and we're going to get it going."

"Once we got going, then we were able to put it all together, you can see it." Strong said, about his team's offense. "We can explode on offense."

The offense for the Bulls gained 548 yards of total offense, including 315 yards running the ball led by D'Ernest Johnson; he carried the ball 22 times for 99 yards and scored 2 touchdowns, including a scoring run of 50 yards.

"I had to press the hole a little bit," Johnson said describing his run toward the goal line. "I didn't see anything so I bounced it outside and the receivers gave me some great blocks and all I had to do was run."

Flowers shuck off the dust from his throwing arm and his passing accuracy improved as the game unfolded. Flowers completed 11 of his 22 attempts for 212 yards, throwing 2 touchdown passes and he also helped the rushing game by running 18 times for 70 yards.

"Their quarterback was elusive and breaking tackles," Brennan said. "Any time you get a hand on a player like that, you have got to get him down."

Flowers found senior wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling 6 times for 91 yards. Flowers also found Darnel Solomon twice for 43 yards, including the first touchdown of the season for the Bulls with 13:41 left in the second quarter.

"We knew on defense we just had to keep playing and get the ball back four our offense," Strong said. "Quinton is going to be a playmaker at some point. He is going to make it happen. He can do so many things."

Brennan is searching for a quarterback that is confident running his offense and he placed the game against the Bulls in the hands of Josh Love. In the first quarter, it looked like that Brennan made the right decision by starting Love.

"The first quarter was the longest quarter of football I've ever been involved with in my life," Brennan said. "We were able to get some momentum running the football, we made some throws and then the blocked punt was huge."

Love executed the offense with confidence and then the first quarter ended and so did the momentum for the Spartans. Love directed the offense for 387 yards of total offense, including completing 50 percent of his throws for 192 yards, but the 3 interceptions is just too many miscues in one game.

Love and the Spartans offense started to press, looked out of sync, and just looked uncomfortable out on the field.

There will be some long nights this week at the as Brennan and his staff review the game film and evaluate the performance of Love, but he says that he is not ready to make any decision about his quarterbacks.

"In terms of quarterbacks, we will make a decision later," Brennan said. "To walk off the field and make that decision isn't fair to Josh. We'll make that decision in the next few days."

In the next few days, the University of South Florida will be getting ready for the home opener September 2 against Stoney Brook at Raymond James Stadium starting at 4 PM.

The commute from home should not be to bad for the Bulls. It will be just a short bus ride across town for USF, Strong, and his coaching staff and they will be expecting a better start from the Bulls and not suffer another anguishing 15 minutes against the Sea Wolves.

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