The good news is the University of South Florida Bulls are 2-0 to start the 2017 season. The better news is they can play much better.
Saturday’s 31-17 win at Raymond James Stadium over unheralded Stony Brook was not a thing of beauty, but early in the season a win is a win. Whether it was a matter of taking the Seawolves lightly, or the opponent came to play, or both, the 19th-ranked Bulls will need to engage upcoming opponents much earlier once conference play begins.
“I just told our players congratulations on the win, but we played two games where we have yet to play four quarters,” first-year Coach Charlie Strong said in post-game comments. “Last week, we didn’t wake up until the second quarter. This week, we didn’t really wake up until the fourth quarter.
Indeed, Stony Brook took a 10-7 lead at halftime. After the Bulls responded with 10 straight points, the Seawolves tied the game at 17 early in the fourth quarter on a 54-yeard run by Stacey Bedell.
Less than two minutes later, Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers hooked up with Tyre McCants on a 65-yard touchdown pass to regain the lead. Darius Tice cemented the victory with a 14-yard TD run with 1:40 remaining.
The Bulls are adapting to a new coaching staff, which will take some time. Willie Taggart, who built USF into a top-25 program during his tenure as head coach, now coaches an elite program in Oregon.
The Ducks put up 77 points in his debut.
Strong was brought in from Texas to continue the success the Bulls enjoyed under Taggart. The USF faithful hope to see similar results to Strong’s years at Louisville, where he was 37-15 in four seasons.
He endured three losing seasons in Texas before he was let go. On Saturday, Texas fans found out Strong wasn’t the sole problem for their woes as they fell at home to Maryland 51-41.
USF is also getting used to life without Marlon Mack in the offensive backfield. Flowers was the team’s leading rusher with 67 yards, missing the 100 or more that Mack normally provided.
For now, the Bulls will just need to improve and at the same time realize that as the favorite to win the American Athletic Conference, they are a target. For some opponents, playing the Bulls will be the highlight of their seasons.
“We’re going to get everyone’s best because of what we have now, and where we’re ranked and everyone has expectations,” Strong said. “That’s why I tell them it’s a one-game season. Just focus on the opponent we’re playing, and don’t worry about what everyone else is saying.”
Mack and two other teammates from last year’s USF team have made NFL rosters. Mack, the fourth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, led the team in rushing during the preseason despite playing in only two of the four games.
Also set to play on Sundays this year is wide receiver Rodney Adams. Adams, the fifth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, will join former FSU star Dalvin Cook as two of 11 rookies to make the Vikings 53-man roster.
Nigel Harris, an undrafted linebacker, impressed the Los Angeles Chargers staff well enough to earn a spot on the team.