By Leo Haggerty

I’m still finding it hard to believe that South Florida was able to come away with a 49-38 win over Georgia Tech.  Here’s why I wouldn’t have believed it unless I saw it.

The biggest reason I cannot believe the Yellowjackets came out on the right side of the dash was they put up just over 600 yards of offense.  It wasn’t necessarily the big number that awed me but the way Tech chewed up the yardage.

From the beginning of the second half until midway through the fourth quarter, Paul Johnson’s crew did not throw a pass.  They didn’t even attempt one until they were forced to on a third-and-long in the last stanza.

It was “Big Boy Football” to say the least.  GT, starting the third quarter, began lining up in a tight double wing formation and ran quarterback sweep or pitch sweep almost every play.

After a couple series, the Bulls moved every defender up close to the line to try and stop it.  There we all 22 players withing 6 yards of the pigskin.  It was football in a phone booth and that’s the Ramblin’ Wreck’s type of contest.

USF tried everything in their defensive bag of tricks to stop the Georgia Tech overland juggernaut but to no avail.  The only way Tech got derailed was by a late forced fumble and deflected interception that was caused by the aggressive Green & Gold defense.

On the plus side, the Bulls made plays when they had to.  A couple of those were on long kickoff return touchdowns by WR Terrance Horne early in the tilt to keep the Bulls in the game.  Frankly, #80 came very close to a third KO return six-pointer but was tripped up by the last man to start the game.

QB Blake Barnett, after throwing an interception on the opening drive, settled down and had a spectacular afternoon.  The Arizona State graduate transfer was 21-of-31 for 200 yards and a couple of touchdown and added 102 yards on 16 carries along with a pair of TDs on the ground.  As you can see, #11 did it not only with his arm but with his feet as well.

The major  influence Barnett had was he steadied the ship when USF got down 10 points early in the fourth period.  He led the Bulls on an answering scoring drive after Tech went up 38-28 then, after the two turnovers, sealed the win with two late scoring drives.

Hey, don’t take my word for it.  Check out the quotes below from the following coaches and players who were up close and personal to the action last Saturday at the RayJay:

HC Charlie Strong
QB Blake Barnett
DB Ronnie Higgins
LB Nico Sawtelle

Also, a big thank you to our trio of Photo Journalists, Jeffrey Neil Fox and Trace Crisp and John Phillips, that were medium well done by Mr. Sun covering the contest for us.  As usual, enjoy.

LH : Have you ever been involved in a game where your defense gave up over 600 yards and won?

CS : No, that’s never happened before.  We just found a way to hang in there and catch up to them in the fourth quarter.  We got two big turnovers that helped us a lot.

LH : In the second half, Georgia Tech went to a tight double wing.  Was that to keep your defenders from getting quickly to the quarterback?

CS : What we were doing in the first half was having McGee take the quarterback and we were fairly successful.  In the second half, Georgia Tech went to that tight formation and started to block McGee so he couldn’t get to the quarterback.  McGee was getting in the alley and getting to their quarterback but, in the second half, he couldn’t get there.

LH : Did you expect to see Oliver, the backup quarterback, or was that a surprise?

CS : Not really.  Marshall had a long run on the first play of the second half and I think he got banged up on that play. They went to Oliver and, because he was being successful, they stayed with him.

LH : Mother Nature wasn’t kind to you this week having to move your practices up to 6 AM.  How hard was that on your team?

CS : We had to do something with all the lightning and rain we were getting in the afternoon.  We only got what amounted to a day and half of good work and that just can’t happen.  We just had to go in the morning to get our work in.  It was that simple.

LH : McCants has 10 catches for 99 yards and I would venture a guess that over half of the yards was YAC.  That Bowling Ball is hard to bring down, isn’t he?

CS : That fullback is hard to bring down.  It’s almost impossible to bring him down alone especially is we get him the football in space.

LH : You go down 10 early in the fourth quarter,  When you go into the huddle on that next drive, what do you see from the other 10 guys in the huddle?

BB : No fear at all.  It wasn’t the beginning of the game butterflies. Yes, we were in desperation mode but everyone stayed in the moment.  We were ready to make the plays needed to win.  We knew what we had to do.

LH : It looked like Georgia Tech was running a lot of Cover 0.  Were you seeing the same thing?

BB : Yeah, a little bit.  They were doing some things that we didn’t expect.  When we came in at halftime, we made some adjustments.  That helped us in the second half.

LH : Did you expect that you were going to have to get in a shootout and just outscore Tech?

BB : Yes, we knew we were going to have to score.  Their offense is so different from what our defense normally sees that we knew they were going to put up some points.  The big thing is that they eat up a lot of clock when they score.  That’s why it was so important to score as often as we could because we knew we weren’t going to get as many possessions as we normally do.

LH : You must have been the only person happy with the 6 AM practice time.  Get up for the baby’s 4 AM feeding then head out to practice.  Was that the case?

BB : (Laughter) Not really.  I’m in graduate school so my classes are from 6 PM to 9 PM.

LH : That second half was Big Boy football, wasn’t it?

RH : Correct.  That was the kind of game they wanted to play.

LH : Beating a Power 5 team, does that make the win extra special?

RH : Not necessarily that they were a Power 5 team.  It was a big game for our program.  We like to play and win big games.

LH : They changed their formation the second half to a tight double wing.  That put all 22 guys on the field within 6 yards of the ball.  Was that football in a phone booth?

RH : Absolutely.  We knew that their plan was to run the football.  We just had to play every play hard from sideline to sideline.

LH : Horne’s kickoff return has to be the #1 play on ESPN tonight, right?

RH : Both of them.  Really, he could have had three if he didn’t get tripped up on the first kickoff.

LH : Mother Nature hasn’t been kind to this team.  Hurricane Irma last year and, this year, 6 AM practice because of the lightning and rain in the afternoon.  How much did that throw things off this week?

RH : We just wanted focus on the task at hand.  Only worry about what we can control.  That’s the way the weather is in Florida this time of the year.

LH : Get to play in another pro stadium next week, right?

RH : Oh yeah.  I hear there a lot of history there.  I’ve never been there so I’m looking forward to going up there.

LH : How important was it to your defense to not let Tech score on the last play even though it was immaterial to the outcome?

RH : It’s something that we pride ourselves and that’s finishing ball games.  It’s something that we struggled with last year.  We want to finish games so stopping them on the last play was big.

LH : On your interception, did it seem like the football just hung in the air forever?

RH : (Laughter) Oh yeah.  I wanted to make sure I caught it.

LH : You don’yt have Flowers running the ball at quarterback now but the guy there now isn’t a bad athlete, is he?

RH : Absolutely.  Blake is doing a great job.  We have to get behind him.  We trust him to get the jobdone.

LH : How long will you celebrate this win?

RH : 24 hours.  Then it’s on to Illinois.

LH : You were second in the nation last year when it came to interception.  Is that the plan again to be at the top of that statistic nationally?

RH : Absolutely.  The guys last year left a legacy that we have to live up to.  Had 19 picks last year so we’re looking for 20 this year.

LH : That second half was Big Boy football, wasn’t it?

NS : Yes it was.  They were just running the ball and they were doing it well.

LH : Game over but you wanted to make sure Tech didn’t score, right?

NS: Oh yeah.  We didn’t want to give up another score.  We wanted to make sure we finished the game on a positive note.

LH : On the interception, were you begging the ball to come down?

NS : Yes.  I tried to high point the ball because I had to to get under it.

LH : Get to play in another NFL stadium, right?

RS : Yes and there’s a lot of history there.  We’re looking forward to going there.