By Leo Haggerty

Normally, statistics don’t lie.  You are what you’re record says you are is probably the biggest.  The second is the team with the least amount of turnovers will normally emerge victorious.  The bronze medal axiom is if you win the time of possession battle you will usually win the game.

Well, USF proved to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to the aforementioned truisms with a hard-fought 20-13 victory over an inspired East Carolina squad.  Yes, the Bulls were the undefeated but the Pirates looked like the team with the unblemished record.

The two teams were even in the turnover category.  That was only due to the fact that the Green & Gold got a late interception that sealed the deal.

Finally, the time of possession, up until USF went to the victory formation, was decisively in the favor of ECU.  The Pirates had the pigskin for a ridiculous 38:10 of clock time until their only turnover late in the fourth quarter.

Still, with all those factors going against the Bulls, South Florida managed to come away with a hard-fought 20-13 triumph at Raymond James Stadium.  USF moved to 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the American Athletic Conference. East Carolina dropped to 1-2 on the campaign and 0-1 in the AAC.

To a man, USF was happy with the win but disappointed with their overall performance.  As you will see below, and as I heard, HC Charlie Strong along with QB Blake Barnett plus RB Jordan Cronkrite were visibly upset with how the team played especially on offense.

Not to make any excuses but the Bulls, on the offensive side of the football, were hamstrung with the injury bug.  Hit especially hard was the the receiver position even before the start of the tilt.  WR Terrance Horne, who had two kick return TDs against Georgia Tech, torn an ACL at practice in a non-contact play on Wednesday, is out for the season.

During the game, TE Mitchell Wilcox goes down with a ankle injury.  Also, WR Tyre McCants made it through the game but was playing on adrenaline with a bum leg.

That left the only other major threat on the perimeter to be WR Randall St. Felix.  Logically, ECU double-covered him for the rest of the game.

As you have probably surmised by now, the bye week is coming at a most opportune time for the Bulls.  They need the week to heal and get back to the basics because you cannot let a team run 96 offensive plays while you have 52 and expect to win.

All photos by our crack Photo-Journalist trio of Jeffrey Neil Fox and Trace Crisp along with John Philips.

LH : Your defense is on the field for 96 snap and holds East Carolina to 13 points.  Is that the epitome of the “bend but don’t break” philosophy?

CS : The main problem was not being able to get off the field on third down.  In the second half, we came with a lot of pressure.  We didn’t want to allow their quarterback to find people in the gaps of the open zones.  We went to some tight coverage.  That gave us a chance to knock some balls away.  The real key was that we were able to win on first down.  They had too many third-and-short situations.  We were finally able to stop them to get to fourth down and get off the field.  Then, when we have them stopped, we run into the punter.  If we didn’t do that, we could have put the game away sooner.  Hat’s off to our defense.  The way they stood up on a day when our offense struggled to score.  That allowed us to continue the way we were able to play.

LH : No Horne or Wilcox with injuries.  East Carolina takes away St. Felix and McCants is playing on adrenaline.  That’s a lot of weapons out of your offense, isn’t it?

CS : Yeah.  Wilcox goes down in the first half.  Horne got hurt this week at practice.  St. Felix is a guy you want to get one-on-one on the outside and they took that away.  McCants was on one leg.  You’re right.  That’s a lot of weapons we didn’t have.

LH : Is winning when you don’t have a good game the sign of a good team?

CS : I sure hope it is.  I really do.

LH : Your offense only ran off 52 plays.  That’s a low point since you came here, correct?

CS : It is.  We have to get off more plays.  When you look at it, we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had to score.  That gave them the chance to score and we had to play catch up.

LH : Last year, you beat Illinois and East Carolina easily.  This year, it was a struggle. Has that been a good learning experience for you team that last year isn’t this year?

CS : I don’t know.  We’re a different team now.  If you look at the guys that are seniors, you don’t really think about what happened last year until you get to those dates this year.  We’ve come in with a totally new team.  New quarterback, new running back, and different wide receivers on offense.  On defense, we have seven new guys and an almost totally new secondary.  Our guys that we play now are extremely athletic and talented.  We want to see them play now.

LH : ECU was preparing for you for two weeks in Orlando.  You embarrassed them two years ago here and last year in Greenville.  You got the best from East Carolina tonight, didn’t you.

JC : They came ready to play.  We have to do a better job of getting ourselves ready to play.

LH : You ran only 52 plays on offense.  Some times you do that in a half.  A lot of three-and-outs?

JC : We’ve got to get more consistent.  We have to start making plays and we have to have all eleven guys on the same page.

LH : Did East Carolina do anything on defense you didn’t expect tonight?

JC : No, we pretty much knew what they were going to do.  They played hard.  We needed to match their intensity.

LH : No Horne or Wilcox and McCants playing on adrenaline.  That a lot of weapons out for you guys, correct?

JC : Yes, sir.  We just had to get the next man up.  What’s nice is that we have a team where we have guys that go out there and make plays.  Our young guys have to step up and, for the most part, they did.

LH : No Horne or Wilcox and St. Felix is bracketed and McCants playing on adrenaline.  That a lot of weapons out for you guys, correct?

BB : Yes but, on offense, it’s a team effort.  Like I said, things aren’t going to be successful unless everyone is doing their job and executing the way they should be.  Guys are going to get hurt but that’s football.  We need to play better.  Our individual efforts need to be better.

LH : Did East Carolina do anything on defense you didn’t expect tonight?

BB : Not really.  They are a big pressure team on defense.  We just have to, as an offense, learn how to execute with that pressure coming.  Also, we need to prepare better during the week.

LH : Talk about Solomon’s touchdown.  It was the only play where you ran motion all the way across to outside the numbers all night, correct?

BB : Yeah, we were running a lot of screens.  We decided to run a little screen-and-go action and he popped open.  He hit that second gear and cleared and was wide open.  It was kind of scary how open he was.  I just wanted to get him the ball.  He made a great play and we executed.  Like I’ve said, if everyone is doing the right job, things like that happen.  We have to do more of that.

LH : Defense on  the field for 96 snaps and you win.  Do you think they should get the game ball?

BB : Absolutely.  Absolutely.  Our defense flat-out bailed us out today.  Made a big play at the end with the interception to seal it up for us.  We owe them a lot tonight.  We’re capable on offense and, going into the bye week, we’ll have time to build and get better.