USF HOUSTON GAME WEEK – NOVEMBER 7
By Leo Haggerty
GAME 9 RECAP
As usual, the week began with the in person Tuesday presser at the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center. Only had a chance to chat with HC Jeff Scott and below are his answers to my queries.
LH : You had a chance to win two in a row for the first time in your tenure. You end up with a short week on the road playing in a monsoon. With all that you’ve been through since you took the job, it’s seems like it’s been crisis after crisis after crisis. Do you feel like the Pharaoh and you’re looking for Moses and the locusts to show up?
JS : Well, yeah. This is what I have to say about that. I’m proud of the way our guys practiced last week in that short week. It was a difficult week. We had to completely change our routine. We had to practice at night. Every night we were out here until 10 at night. We had to completely change it up. Our guys were ready to play and we played pretty well the first half. Ultimately, we didn’t play well in the second half and that starts with us as coaches. We have to figure out why that is. We have to put them in better positions and then they have to make the plays. We had some opportunities, on some of those third downs on defense, when we had a guy right there. The quarterback was right there and our guy falls down and their guy goes and gets a first down and that leads to a touchdown. That was the big message for us on Sunday when we came back. Everybody has to take ownership in this. I feel like we went, from a year ago, where we didn’t belong on the field with them. Didn’t belong on the field with Tulsa. Now, a year later, we belong. It not enough just to belong. Now it comes down to playing well. These are kind of the graduation steps that you take when you’re building a program. Obviously, starting with me, I want it to happen right now. We all want to win but we are seeing progress. I know it’s not fun for everybody right now but I would be a lot more concerned if I felt like I saw a lot of mistakes. A lot of guys just giving up and going backwards. Our guys, they’re believing and they’re playing hard. We’re just not playing well enough and that starts with us as coaches. We have to do a better job with them so they can execute in some of those situations. They have to be able to go out and execute for four quarters. That’s, ultimately, where we’re at at this point of the season.
LH : Suppose one of your players who is chaperoning a possible recruit comes back to you and says this guy isn’t a good fit for our culture and program. Does that carry any weight with you?
JS : That’s big time. That’s a pretty good question right there and, actually, I’ve have a little bit of insight on that. That actually happened in my first year here. We had a young man, and we had just got here and we were just bringing some guys in. The host, now one of our captains, came up to me on Sunday morning and said to me that he just wanted to give me some intel. He told me that he didn’t think this young man loves football. The conversations I had with him, he’s just looking at this as a scholarship. He doesn’t really love ball. That’s something that we couldn’t get in the short time and it’s the same thing on the character front. They get to spend some time with them at night and all that kind of stuff. That’s part of the deal. The prospects and their family are kind of feeling us out. To see who we are and we’re doing the same thing of them. I think now that our players really know what our expectations are and what the culture is in our locker room and all that. They are able to see, pretty easily, if these young men will be a good fit or not. Yes, that’s a big part of it and we always check with our guys, once the guys visit, to see what the intel is and to see if they’ll be a great fit for us.
LH : Right now, you have 100% improvement in wins from last year. How well is it to play well these last four games?
JS : At the end of the day, we’re at the stage where we want to win. We’ve done enough of the playing well and doing a lot of good things. At the end of the day, our guys want to win. Microscope for a second is that we want to finish with one point more than our opponent. That’s from the microscope. Now, from the telescope perspective, I am pleased, big picture wise, with the growth I’ve seen in our locker room within our team. I have a pretty good idea of what we have to add to our current team roster to take those next steps. Make no mistake, I want to see us have a great finish.
On a November night with the temperature in the high 50’s and a strong breeze blowing north to south, Houston outlasted South Florida 54-42 at Raymond James Stadium. The Cougars moved to 8-1 on the season and 6-0 in the American Athletic Conference. The Bulls dropped to 2-7 on the campaign and 1-4 in the AAC.
If you stopped on the way to your seat to get a hot dog along with a drink and missed the opening kickoff, you didn’t see South Florida put up the first points just 13 seconds into the contest. RB Brian Battie (3 for 208 yards and 2 TD) took the kickoff and went coast to coast for a 100 yard touchdown. K Spencer Shrader booted the PAT and the Bulls opened up a 7-0 lead.
After an exchange of punts, Houston dented the scoreboard for the first time at 8:35 of the opening quarter. QB Clayton Tune (21 of 26 for 385 yards and 3 TD) threw up a prayer and it was answered when WR Jake Herslow (3 for 34 yards and 1 TD) came down with the pigskin and was able to get a foot down in the back of the end zone to complete an 18 yard strike. The drive took seven plays to go 56 yards in 2:51 and K Dalton Witherspoon split the uprights to tie the game at 7 all.
USF immediately retook the lead at 6:44 of the first period. Again it was Battie (3 for 29 yards and 1 TD) who ran threw a gaping hole on the left side and then made a great cut to elude the last Cougar defender to complete a 29 yard jaunt to pay dirt. That culminated a 75 yard drive that took 1:51 in five plays. Shrader was true with the extra point and the Green & Gold moved out to a 14-7 advantage.
Houston inched closer at 3:34 of the first quarter. After P Laine Wilkins pinned the Bulls inside their own one yard line, RB Jaren Mangham (8 for 25 yards) was tackled in the end zone and that cut the USF lead to 14-9.
The Cougars then took the kick and added to their score at 14:52 of the second period. When the South Florida defense stiffened within the shadow of their own goal line, it forced Witherspoon to kick a 19 yard field goal. That ended an eight play drive that traversed 56 yards in 3:37. That moved the Cougs closer at 14-12.
South Florida extended its lead at 10:19 of the second quarter. QB Timmy McClain (22 of 46 for 289 yards and 2 TD plus 2 INT) scrambled to his left and found TE Mitchell Brinkman (1 for 33 yards and 1 TD) with a 33 yard aerial. That completed a 10 play drive that consumed 75 yards in 4:33. Shrader again was perfect and the Green & Gold padded their lead to 21-12.
The Red & White came storming back at 8:19 of the second stanza. RB Alton McCaskill (22 for 127 yards and 3 TD) powered in from six yards out to finish off a 1:51 drive that went 54 yards in five plays. Witherspoon connected again and the Cougars crept back cutting the lead to 21-19.
Houston took its first lead of the contest with 2:30 left before halftime. Tune found WR Nathaniel Dell (8 for 164 yards and 1 TD) down the left sidelines with a 55 yard bomb. Witherspoon was true with the PAT and the Cougs had their first lead of the tilt at 26-21.
That lead would last a grand total of 14 seconds. For the second time this evening, Battie raced 100 yards untouched for his second triple digit scoring return. Shrader converted the extra point and the Bulls retook the lead at 28-26.
Houston took the second half kickoff and regained the lead at 12:50 of the third quarter. It was McCaskill again finding the end zone with a two yard plunge. That put an end to a 67 yard drive that took five plays and 2:10. Witherspoon split the uprights and the Cougars were back on top at 33-28.
It took the Red & White offense just 14 seconds and one play to change the number on their side of the scoreboard. After forcing a USF punt that pinned the visitors on their own three yard line, RB Ta’Zhawn Henry (10 for 135 and 1 TD) went 97 yards to stretch the Houston lead to 40-28 at 10:04 of the third period.
There was still life in the Bulls and the home team put up points at 6:58 of the third period. McClain scrambled left and found TE Chris Carter (2 for 19 yards and 1 TD) in the back left corner of the end zone with a 14 yard lob. That closed out an 11 play drive that took 3:05 to travel 65 yards. Shrader kicked the extra point and USF closed the gap to 40-35.
The Cougars came right back at 4:44 of the third quarter. Tune connected with WR Jeremy Singleton (2 for 34 yards and 1 TD) for a 27 yard score. That completed a 2:14 drive that encompassed five plays and 75 yards. Witherspoon hit the extra point and the Red & White stretched their lead to 47-35.
USF cut into that margin at 3:59 of the final period. This time McClain (11 for 50 yards and 1 TD) went the overland route finding the end zone with an 11 yard scamper. That finished off a nine play drive that took 2:34 to motor 60 yards. Shrader again converted the PAT bringing the Bulls into striking distance at 47-42.
Houston would put the game out of reach with 2:27 left in regulation. It was McCaskill scoring his third touchdown of the evening with this one of the 16 yard variety. That polished of a three play drive that went 44 yards in 1:31. Witherspoon kick finished off the scoring and the Cougars were able to capture a 54-42 victory.
Talked with Scott as well as Battie and Brinkman along with McClain after the contest. Their responses are below for your perusal.
LH : It seemed like in the third quarter, your defense hit a wall for a couple of series. Were they just gassed?
JS : It’s the same thing that has happened to us all year long. We’re playing with about 15 or 16 guys and we have to find a way to play better. You can say what you want but, I know, it wasn’t effort. There guys just made more plays and we have to find ways, as a coaching staff, to help our guys do better in the second half. Ultimately, we’ll do better when we’re able to recruit more depth on defense but there’s nothing we can do about that during the season. It is what it is. I appreciate their effort and I appreciate them playing hard and I wish I could help them as a coach.
LH : McClain does a great job of extended plays and he’s just a freshman. The fact that you’ll have him two or three more years has to be a plus, correct?
JS : Yes, there again, there’s a lot of positives in it. It just, at this point, it’s painful. You want to be able to get over the hump. Yes, there’s no doubt that we have a lot of young guys playing a lot of ball and doing a lot of good things that we can build. It’s like I was telling their coach. They’re in year three and year four and we’re going to be in year three and year four at some point. Stack some recruiting classes together to establish some depth. What I see out of our guys, I just absolutely love what I see in our locker room. To have a record that we have and to have been through all the stuff that we’ve been through and watch they way these guys play, it hurts. Ultimately, we just run out of gas. That’s what it is against a good team. You can say whatever you want to say but, basically, that’s what it is. We have to find ways, as coaches, to put them in a little better position and they have to find ways to make some plays. They come out and it’s not on our guys. They have been playing really hard. I’m proud of the way they’ve responded. Ultimately, long term, that’s going to pay off for us. Right now, it hurts. It’s part of the growing pains that we’re going through right now. We will get better and respond. We’ll be back Friday night and be ready to play.
LH : When you look at a good college defense, they’re going to rotate between six and nine defensive lineman. How hard is it to consistently stop the run when you only have four or five guys in the trenches?
JS : Again, I’m not going to make excuses here. I’m just being honest. I hope that you guys have felt that, since I’ve been here, I’ve been honest. I’m not sitting up here making excuses as to why we didn’t win. The idea is to do what they do. They had 11 come on and 11 come off in the middle of drives if you do a good job of recruiting. They’ve done a great job. If you look at their defensive line, they have about eight or nine guys. We’re going to add some guys to our roster and we’re going to be there one day. It’s going to be our time. I have no doubt that our guys will continue to push and continue to work and, if we do the job I believe we are going to do recruiting and from the response that we’re getting in recruiting, our day is coming. Right now it’s disheartening but we’re not going to give up. We are going to address it and be honest about it. We’re going to go back and watch the video and keep moving forward because that’s the only way to get where we want to go.
LH : On your second 100 yard return, on the replay we could see that you were looking up at the Jumbotron. Is that to see who is chasing you from behind?
BB : Yes, I was making sure that no one would run me down and that I could slow down a little bit.
LH : Were both the touchdown returns the same type of return?
BB : Touch wise, they were the same. One was a boundary return and the other was a middle. Both were wide open as everybody could see. Got great blocking from the kickoff return team. I just did what I needed to do.
LH : On your touchdown run from scrimmage, you make a great move on the safety to score. That was a great cut, wasn’t it?
BB : Yes, it was. Thank you, I appreciate that.
LH : Is there a rule in your scramble drill?
MB : If you’re short then you go deep. If you’re deep then you come back short. If you’re on the opposite side of the field then you just come across.
LH : When you think you’re open in the scramble drill do you just wave your arms?
MB : No because Timmy does a great job of seeing the field and surveying. He does a good job of seeing the open receiver.
LH : It has to be frustrating playing just well enough to lose. What’s that feeling like?
MB : I’m just frustrated for my teammates. I hope the younger guys, and I try to bring them along, because this is my sixth year. I’ve played a lot of college football. I know how close this team is and I’m doing the best I can to have them keep their heads up. They’re doing a great job. Our culture, everybody bought into the coaching and how we’re playing. We are going to treat every game the same. I think it’s really frustrating because the outcomes aren’t what we want but we can see, watching film, that we’re getting better and better each and every week. We’re hoping to play our best football the last few weeks.
LH : Last year, the light at the end of the tunnel was the train coming to run you over. This year, is that light at the end of the tunnel getting to a win?
MB : Yes, sir, it is. We’re working each and every day for that opportunity to win. We’re expecting to win every game. We don’t go out on the field thinking we’re not going to win. We are going to have the same mindset the last few weeks.
LH : The guys in the white jerseys are a pretty good football team, right?
TM : Yeah, they were. Very good. Their offense was really good. I feel we could have done some things better but we just didn’t do that.
LH : It looked like, early in the game, the tackles we just trying to run their edge rushers by you so all you had to do was step up. Was that the case?
TM : Yes it was. I had to step up into the pocket. It worked well.
LH : You’re all set to go out on the field after the opening kickoff and, 14 seconds later, you’re up 7-0. That had to be a nice change, right?
TM : Yes, it was a good change. A good feeling. It was great to start the game like that.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Bulls. Third ranked Cincinnati rolls into town for a Friday night tilt at Raymond James for a 6 pm kickoff. See you then.