September 21, 2022
After a confidence-building, road-game performance in a 31-28 defeat against No. 18-ranked Florida, head coach Jeff Scott said Tuesday he hopes that effort translates into an even higher level of production in Saturday afternoon’s game at Louisville.
"It’s time for us to take that next step and finish it,” Scott said. "The goal is to take all the good things we did and make sure that is the standard, while cleaning up all the mistakes. Doesn’t matter who we’re playing, whether the game is day or night, what injuries we have or anything else. We play to the standard.”
Against the Gators, that meant a devastatingly effective running game, which produced 286 rushing yards, including a career-high 150 from Brian Battie. It meant a "gutsy” performance by quarterback Gerry Bohanon, who rushed for 102 yards himself and expertly worked the run-pass option plays, constantly making the right decision after reading the defense.
It meant an opportunistic USF defense, which produced a pair of interceptions, one by linebacker Dwayne Boyles that led to a touchdown and another by cornerback Aamaris Brown in the end zone that prevented a Gator score. It also featured the return of linebacker Antonio Grier, who had a team-leading 10 tackles.
For the Bulls (1-2), it also meant an aggressive, attacking offensive plan — with a half-dozen expertly designed plays, 8-for-15 on third-down conversions, 2-for-2 on fourth-down conversions and a style that virtually screamed USF’s intentions from the get-go: It came to Gainesville to win the game.
"The guys played extremely hard for four quarters on offense, defense and special teams,” Scott said. "We had some mistakes at the end that didn’t allow us to finish the game the right way. But the majority of that performance was something we can build on.
"So, the big message to our guys is whether we’d have won the game or not, we’ve still got things to improve on. We’ve got to really take that next step this week. And if we continue to do that, then I’m really optimistic about what this team can do this season.”
Senior offensive tackle Donovan Jennings said he believes USF is ready to make the next step.
"None of us are happy with the loss, but we also know what we can accomplish when we put our mind to it,” Jennings said. "We feel we have something to prove — and that’s coming up with a win. I think this will propel us to getting the wins we need. It shows us that we can compete with and beat anybody on our schedule.
"It feels different. We believe in ourselves even more. We just know there’s something better coming up. We just sense it, so we’re going to practice hard and keep working until we get it.”
Boyles said his team made a statement against the Gators. But that won’t mean much unless the Bulls can continue their improvement.
"We’re definitely more hungry,” Boyles said. "I feel like we showed ourselves and others in the whole country what we’re all about. For sue, we want more. We’re more hungry to win games. We’ve got great confidence to keep working for our goals and it all starts at practice.”
Next Up: Louisville
For the first time since 2012, when both programs shared a home in the Big East Conference, the Bulls will travel to Louisville for a noon game on the ACC Network. Louisville (1-2, 0-2), a member of the ACC since 2014, is coming off a 35-31 home loss to Florida State last Friday night.
Scott said he has great respect for Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham, who has accounted for 104 career touchdowns (63 passing, 41 rushing). Cunningham has 2,901 career rushing yards and needs 58 on the ground to move into third place on Louisville’s all-time rushing list.
"Louisville is very athletic and very aggressive,” Scott said. "I think they were one or two plays away from beating Florida State last week, which is a really good team off to a good start. It starts with Malik Cunningham. He’s one of the best players in the country. He’s a guy you have to account for on every play.”
Shrader’s Near-Miracle Kick
Last Saturday’s box score states that USF place-kicker Spencer Shrader missed a 49-yard field-goal attempt that would have tied the Gators with 23 seconds to play.
There was a bit more to it.
The center snap was bobbled by holder Andrew Beardall. In fact, there are some photographs that show Shrader approaching the kick with the football laying flat on the grass. Beardall scrambled to recover and Shrader estimated that the ball was tilted at "less than a 45-degree angle” when he struck it.
Shrader got enough lift on it to clear the line. It was a low line drive — "actually it was spinning around like a helicopter, a really weird sight,” Shrader said — and had the distance. Off the leg, Shrader said he thought it was down the middle, but the ball kept fading, fading, fading until it fluttered wide right by about a yard.
"I wanted that kick, not just for me, but for the whole team,” Shrader said. "It’s tough to see everybody on the team hurting because of how hard we fought. It was one of those freak incidents that probably will never happen again. Andrew always gets it down cleanly and we still believe in him. We just have to move on and learn from it. We’re not going to let it affect our confidence.
"I could see the ball was on the ground and it wasn’t going to be a normal operation. It’s all about making solid contact. You don’t have time to second-guess anything. If you stop (running to approach the ball), then you have no shot. I was able to get under it and get it off the ground. I gave it my best shot and it almost worked.”
Emotional 48 Hours For Cecil
Shrader’s field-goal attempt occurred two plays after USF faced a second-and-6 from Florida’s 19-yard line. The Bulls seemed on their way to driving for a winning touchdown, while leaving little to no time for the Gators to respond.
Veteran center Brad Cecil, starting his 41st game at USF, rifled a low shotgun snap that bounced past Bohanon. Battie, the back, scrambled to cover the ball at Florida’s 33-yard line, but then it was third-and-20, a completely different situation that erased USF’s momentum.
"I was extremely emotional afterward,” Cecil said. "On a personal level, Saturday night, Sunday and even Monday was terrible. I put the blame on myself. People told me there were other plays or calls in the game that could’ve went right for us. But I’m one of those people who, when times get tough, I want the weight on my back.
"I took full responsibility for that. And it’s definitely a learning experience. I definitely felt every emotion it’s possible to feel over the last 48 hours. But one of the most important things for me was making sure to feel those emotions and not trying to run away from them. I’ve talked to my friends and my coaches, I’ve felt what I needed to feel, and now I’ll never let it happen again. It was the hardest thing I’ve been through on the football field. Seeing the team rally around me and have my back … as an individual and as a team, it will only make me better for sure.”
Cecil said he has received support from all sorts of people — including the University of Florida football chaplain after the game ended.
"Obviously, I’m a train wreck, feeling all the emotions of the loss and feeling like it’s my fault, basically,” Cecil said. "The chaplain was asking our coaches, ‘Where’s the center?’ He came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I want to let you know that you didn’t lose this game. There were other plays that happened. Don’t put it all on yourself.’
"Things like that have helped me more than anything. I mean, the Florida chaplain. I thought that was really classy.”
Scott said linebacker/special teams ace Brian Norris suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Gators. Norris, whose cleat got caught in the turf at Florida Field while he absorbed an impact on a special teams play, will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Scott expects the return of cornerback Christian Williams, who hasn’t played since the first half of the opener against BYU. Wide receiver Ajou Ajou continues to struggle with a groin injury and his return is uncertain. Meanwhile, wide receiver Jimmy Horn, who had an ankle injury and got in for a handful of plays against the Gators, is expected back against Louisville.
– Go Bulls –
Bulls Nearly Down No. 18 Florida In Wild 31-28 Game In The Swamp
It All Starts Up Front For The Bulls Saturday In Gainesville
Bulls Look To Execute on Offense; Contain Richardson on Defense
USF Football Radio Show with Head Coach Jeff Scott – 09/14/2022
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