USF FLORIDA GAME WEEK – SEPTEMBER 14
By Leo Haggerty

GAME 2 RECAP

The week began with the usual presser on the USF campus at the Lee Roy Selmon Center on Tuesday.  As always, had a chance to speak with HC Jeff Scott along with S Matt Hill as well as TE Mitchell Brinkman.

LH : Early in the game, you have NC State in a third down and you deflect a pass.  99 times out of 100, it either gets intercepted or falls incomplete to the ground but this time it goes as a completion and keeps the drive alive.  You could almost see the air go out of your defense like they thought is this going to happen again.  Did you feel the same way?

JS : It was unfortunate.  Absolutely but it’s football, right?  Sometimes, I think back to a year ago against The Citadel and what happened on their first punt and we had the shortest punt return in the history of college football for zero yards.  Those things happen.  The message to our guys is that when you play hard and you play fast, more times than not, you’re going to be around the ball when those opportunities happen.  Our guys did a good job of deflecting the ball and their guy jumped up and made a play on third down.  I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on that.  I spend more time talking about the penalties that we had, several times. There we two keys penalties that we had on defense that kept them on the field that led to touchdown drives.  That’s going back to things that we can control.  The other play we really can’t control the ending of that.  But, what we can control, is being physical and having the foolish personal fouls that just kept the defense out there that kept drives alive.

LH : If teams want to play big boy football and just run it between the tackles and down your throat, how do you defend that?

JS : It comes down to defeating blocks and I felt like there was times on Thursday night, that we did a better job against the run than we did last year.  Ultimately, we weren’t consistent enough.  I think that part of it, too, was that, offensively, we had so many three-and-outs that we just kept putting the defense out there.  I don’t care how good your defense is, you can’t keep putting them out there in tough situations back-to-back.  Unfortunately, we’re in the same situation, very similar, as we were last year, depth wise.  We played 16 defensive players last week.  We had guys out and guys that were not ready to go play yet.  I think that effected us but, ultimately, how you stop the run is that everybody is where they’re suppose to be and then they make the tackle.  When we were in the right gaps and we made the tackles, we had some nice tackles for a loss or no gain or a short gain.  If guys weren’t where they were suppose to be, against some talented running backs, they were touchdowns or 40 or 50 yard gains.  We had eight big plays that we gave up in the running game.  Going back and watching the tape, it was from poor alignments and guys just not finishing tackles and getting guys on the ground.

LH : A home game with a packed house.  How important is that right now?

JS : Yeah, it’s great.  It’s important for us to go out and play well.  There’s no doubt about it.  Last year, obviously, it is what it is.  It was fun playing at NC State.  They had a great crowd there.  The energy that you have when fans are at the game and all that.  Obviously, we didn’t play as well as we wanted to.  It was different and it felt different in a good way.  I’m excited about the energy that’s going to be there on Saturday.  I think it will be great for Tampa.  I think it’s great for our team and our program to host a program like Florida here.  My job is to get our team to focus and go out and execute and play a good game.

LH : Any significant injuries that came out of Thursday night?

JS : Yes, unfortunately, Christian Williams will be out for a while.  He had a high ankle sprain so he’s going to be out for a little while.  I think that was the biggest one, for sure.  We still don’t know about Kelvin Pinkney as to when we will get him back.  We’ll know more later in the week.

LH : How do you keep one loss from becoming two?

JS : Talk about, and very clearly explain, why we lost the game.  Why we didn’t execute and how it looks and show the that hey, if we would have, look, done this it would have been a touchdown and, all of a sudden, it’s a different game.  If we make a little bit better decision on where we’re suppose to be, it saves a touchdown.  You showed them so they can see the opportunities that were there and, the next time you get those opportunities, you have to make the most of it.  This group has been through a lot.  I definitely wished, and expected us, to play better but nobody quit.  Watching that last drive go all the way down there and I wish we could have got it in but nobody quit.  They were disappointed after the game but they showed up on Saturday morning for our meetings with their notebooks out to take notes and learn from it.  They have pride.  They’ve put in a lot of work.  This season wasn’t going to built around the first two games.  If that was the case, it’s going to be a pretty difficult one.  We building toward a 12-game season.  That was a great opportunity last week and it was exactly that.  One opportunity and it’s a great opportunity this week and it’s exactly that.  Win or lose, it’s exactly that.  We want to be consistent throughout the whole season for us to have success.

LH : After the loss, as your sitting there in the locker room, do you go back and think about the good plays you made and how you can improve on the others?

MH : With that being said, after the loss, it did kind of hurt.  That’s because we thought the outcome against NC State was going to be different.  A different score on the board.  It’s one of those things that you just look past and continue to work every day and to get better.  Make some corrections so we don’t make the same errors again.  That’s what I would say to that.

LH : When you’re sitting in the locker room after the game, and yeah you got beat, but do you mentally go over the good plays and the ones I have to get better at doing?

MB : Yes and, obviously, it was a frustrating night on Thursday.  I think that we came in Saturday with an open mind.  At this point, when you turn on the film and see all the plays that could have been made and weren’t made.  At the end of the day, we’re going to look at it as a team that it’s one game.  We are not going to let that game define our season.  We have 11 more guaranteed opportunities to play and we are going to whatever we can to win those.

Wednesday was a special day for USF football and athletics in general.  It was the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Indoor Performance Facility with an expected completion date of August 2022 which will have it ready for fall practice for football next season.

The following people spoke before the actual groundbreaking photo opportunity. They were Interim President Rhea Law,  Board of Trustees Chairman Will Weatherford, Vice President of Athletics Michael Kelly, Head Football Coach Jeff Scott, Current Football Student-Athlete Brad Cecil and Current USF Athletics Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President Meghan Sheehan.

Had a chance to talk with Kelly and Weatherford along with Scott at the conclusion of this momentous occasion.  There had some very interesting responses to my queries as you will read.

LH : This changes the whole dynamic.  When you’re recruiting, now you can tell a kid that next year when you show up this is going to built.  How important is that?

MK : It’s huge.  It’s transformational for our entire athletic department and we talked about that earlier.  It’s not just a great bolster into our football program but, really, to our entire athletic department.  Seeing the amount of time that I spend out here looking at our turf field and seeing Pete out here, pretty much, every hour of the day, is something that’s going to be great for all of us.  It shows the commitment that our donors and ourselves are making and, just to continue great things, looking ahead for USF athletics.

LH : In 2011, Virginia Commonwealth goes to The Final Four.  There president makes the statement on television that their yearly alumni giving has doubled in 48 hours. Is it coming to fruition at USF that people will show and, also, to donate?

MK : Yes, that’s, obviously, the case.  In the last three years, obviously, to build this facility itself been $25 million in our blitz.  That’s more than we’ve ever had in our athletic development history.  That just shows that, despite pandemic times and despite some ups and downs in our off and on field performance, folks are unifying behind a vision that we have and our coaches have and, obviously, our leadership has and so I think it’s a great indication. Any time you see, during some tough times like a pandemic, and you see people say that oh, let’s not let a college build anything right now.  Huh, USF is.  I think our fans and our alums and this community, maybe, should take note and understand our appreciation for helping to make that happen.

LH : Twenty-five years of football here.  You’re still wet behind the ears.  That fact that you’re building an indoor facility and a new stadium, you’re making leaps and bounds, aren’t you?

WW : Well, we have to dream big and USF is in a place and a posture where we can dream big.  It’s a university that’s progressing in every metric academically.  It’s an athletic program that’s ready to take on the challenge.  Quite frankly, the students and the community and the athletes, they deserve a stadium on their campus.  They deserve to have it and we can do it and we’re going to do it.  I’m quite excited about that.

LH : Until that stadium happens, you’re not playing in a chopped liver facility.  Raymond James Stadium is pretty much the cream of the crop.  You have to be happy to be there, right?

WW : Look, we have an incredible relationship with the Glazer family and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  To play in a stadium where the Super Bowl was won just a few months ago.  I had the honor to be the co-chairman of that Super Bowl and it was magical.  It was a magical night.  Our players get to play in an incredible place.  However, that being said, long term, to activate the student body and to activate alumni, who can now come to the campus and say to their son or their daughter that this is where mom or dad went to school, right.  To be able to showcase this campus, you can’t really do that when you’re playing your football games somewhere else.  We love the relationship with the Glazers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and we’re honored by that but there will come a time where we have to do all those festivities inside of our campus.

LH : If you win, the money will come, correct?

WW : No question that winning helps.  I have a lot of confidence in Coach Scott.  We’re going to watch but he’s building something special.  You start with the culture.  You start with the foundation and then you build up from there.  I have all the confidence in the world in Michael Kelly and Coach Scott that they’re building something special here.

LH : The whole dynamic has changed now, isn’t it?

JS : Yes, this is what a new coach really looks forward to and appreciates.  This is incredible, and like I said in my remarks earlier, when Michael Kelly came up to Clemson to visit with me, and I had another opportunity that I was looking into, and he sold me on the vision.  Not what is here right now and the current situation but, really, what the potential is here.  What the plans are that have been in place and, really, it was about getting a group together that was aligned in vision and taking action.  Whenever I chose to come here, it wasn’t about a one year or a two year fix and trying to go somewhere else.  It was really coming to a place where I could built on to the foundation and build a new foundation that would allow us to, really, kind of take the next steps moving into this new decade.  What I’m excited about the most for today? I was excited for everybody to hear Will Weatherford.  Everybody to hear our leadership of the university because these conversations that you got to hear today, I’ve been hearing that for the last four months.  So, I’ve just been doing a lot of smiling because I know. They are very serious about it and it’s all about timing.  There’s ebbs and flows in programs.  I just feel very fortunate that I’m here at a time when things are really about to take off.  It’s not just talk, there’s action and the right people are in place for this next chapter that we’re going into.

LH : When this all comes to fruition, from a coaching standpoint, does this become a destination job and not a stepping stone one?

JS : Yeah, and again for me, I was in a very good spot at Clemson.  I had been there for 12 years with Coach Swinney.  He made it well known to me that I could stay there with him for the rest of his career.  It’s a great place to raise a family and all that.  Whenever I was thinking about leaving, I didn’t want to go to a place and be there just one or two years and leave and try to go somewhere else.  I wanted to go to a place that had a lot of opportunity for growth and a lot of potential for growth and be able to put our roots down.  You know, thirty different coaches and families moved to Tampa whenever I got the job here.  The way that I’m looking at it, because of the support that we have, because of the alignment in vision that we currently have here, it gives me confidence that this is a place that you can stay for a long time.  It’s going to take time.  This program needs a coach that wants to be here and is willing to be here.  This is not a three year job.  It’s really not.  It’s going to take these steps and that’s the vision that our leadership has and that’s the vision that I have along with everybody else.  This is going to be a long term play and, in my opinion, we’re going to put ourselves in a great position when we get there.

On Saturday afternoon, the Florida Gators came to Raymond James Stadium and got off to a quick start and never looked back in a 42-20 victory over the South Florida Bulls.  UF moved to 2-0 on the season with a 3:30 pm date with #1 Alabama next week in Gainesville.  USF dropped to 0-2 and will entertain Florida A&M at 7:00 pm in Tampa.

After an exchange of punts, the Gators dented the scoreboard first at 11:06 of the opening period.  RB Dameon Pierce (5-for-55 and a TD) capped off  a four play drive that went 63 yards in 1:26.  K  Chris Howard converted the PAT putting Florida up 7-0.

On their next possession, USF answered at 4:45 of the first period.  K Spencer Shrader finished off a 75 yard drive that took 17 plays and 6:16 that cut the UF lead to 7-3.

That score was short lived as it took one play, and 11 seconds, for Florida to extend its lead.  Back up QB Anthony Richardson (3-of-3 for 152 yards and 2 TD) found WR Jacob Copeland (5-for-175 and 2 TD) behind the Bulls secondary for an 75 yard catch-and-run score. Howard split the uprights and that put Gators back up by a 14-3 count.

The Blue & Orange padded their lead at 12:36 of the second period.  WR Xzavier Henderson (4-for-68 and a TD) hauled in a 35 yard aerial from QB Emery Jones (14-for-22 for 151 with a TD and 2 INT) that ended an eight play drive that took 3:36 to traverse 67 yards.  Howard was true again with the extra point and Florida was off and running with a 21-3 advantage.

After a USF 3 and out, UF increased the margin at 9:18 of the second stanza.  Richardson culminated an 80 yard drive that took six plays and 2:37 with a 41 yard bomb to Copeland.  Backup K Jace Christmann made this extra point and Florida increased the margin to 28-3 but the Gators were not finished for the first 30 minutes of play.

After Florida DB Kaiir Elam picked off a Cade Fortin (12-of-18 for 91 yards and an INT) pass , UF used the turnover to pad their margin with 6:41 left before halftime.  This time, it was Jones (13-for-89 and 1 TD) going the overland route from 33 yards away to the end zone.  That capped a three play drive that took 1:20 to navigate 51 yards. Howard again converted the PAT and the Gators extended their lead to 35-3.

After intermission, the Bulls were the first to strike.  A South Florida interception by S Mekhi LaPointe led to a Bulls score with 9:18 left in the third quarter.  Shrader again connected from 32 yards out after the 19 yard drive stalled after four plays and 1:31 cutting the UF lead to 35-6.

After another interception by the Green & Gold, USF scored its initial touchdown of the 2021 season at 4:41 of the third stanza.  This time it was S Brock Nichols giving the Bulls good field position and the home team took full advantage of this turnover.  After five plays and 1:31, RB Jaren Mangham (8-for-29 and 2 TD) closed out the 43 yard drive with a one yard plunge.  Shrader hit the PAT and South Florida closed the gap to 35-13.

A a couple exchange of punts, it took the Gators one play to go 80 yards at the 10:29 mark of the final quarter.  Richardson (4-for-115 and a TD) did the honors breaking numerous tackles in a 14 seconds sprint to the end zone.  Howard again split the uprights and the UF lead grew to 42-13.

After an exchange of punts, USF put the final points of the contest on the board with 4:22 left in regulation after a 45 yard return by WR Xavier Weaver set the Bulls up at the Florida 27 yard line.   Again it was Mangham doing the honors this time with a two yard run that capped a five play drive that took 1:46.  Shrader hit the PAT making the final score 42-20 in favor of the Gators.

After the game, I had a chance to ask HC Jeff Scott some very pointed questions about the contest.  Also talked with S Brock Nichols and RB Jaren Mangham along with LB Dwayne Boyles.

LH : When you had the bad snap on the goal line in the spread, do you have a quarterback under center package for that situation?

JS : Yeah, we do, but I think you should never be afraid of taking a shotgun snap.  If you look all over the country, teams are in the shotgun at the one yard line.  We did it all the time at Clemson.  We scored down there the next time, right, in the same situation.  It came down to something simple as a snap.  The center had a guy that was head up on him and the snap went high and to the right.  We do have plays where we get underneath center but we felt like we would stick with what we had according to the game.  We liked the play that we called but it comes down to a little thing like the snap.  These are things that we haven’t been as sharp as we need to be right now.

LH : The double pass was a perfect call.  If that pass is completed, it’s 7-7 and momentum swings your way.  It could have been a whole different ball game, correct?

JS : Yeah, that was something that we worked on all week and that’s a pass that we have to complete.  We’ll get better.  Our guys will learn from it.  There is no question that, early on, a different result on a couple plays would have changed the course of the game but we didn’t do it.  We got to figure that out and get it right.

LH : You talk about being so close.  On Florida’s fourth down play, you’re in the right defense but just can’t make the tackle.  You are getting close, aren’t you?

JS : Yeah and it was right there in front of us but you know what they say about close.  It is improvement and there are no moral victories. We had some similar games and we weren’t even close.  It makes you look and feel optimistic.  Even though we didn’t get the results we wanted in these first two games, I’ve seen some improvement.  There are a lot of things that we have to get corrected.  That’s what gives me optimism as we look forward to next week.

LH : Did Florida do anything that you didn’t expect or see on film?

BN : No, sir, they stayed with their basics. On defense, we just couldn’t make tackles.

LH : What was it like getting in the end zone?

JM : It felt good getting back in the end zone.  Not just for me but it felt good scoring as a team also.  Finally putting some points up on the board in the second half after our defense gave us the ball.

LH : Did Florida do anything different defensively?

JM : No they didn’t.  We’re just kind of kicking ourselves in the butt with the missed opportunities that we had.  We just came out in the second half and just got down to business.  We read our keys and did what we were suppose to be doing and got rolling.

LH : Did Florida do anything different offensively that you didn’t see on film?

DB : No, they were pretty basic all day.  The majority of the plays that they ran were just one or two plays.  They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect.  That wasn’t the problem.

All photos provided by our father and son photo journalist team of Trace and Matt Crisp.