After last week’s season-opening loss to Alabama, junior quarterback Ronnie Banks became the first USF quarterback to lose in a debut.
It was a streak former USF standout Marquel Blackwell had continued, as he became the third quarterback to win his first start when he began his career with the Bulls four years ago.
Banks entered Saturday’s first home game against Nicholls State at Raymond James Stadium with a Blackwell-guided, 19-game home winning streak hanging over his head. Early in the game, it seemed that streak could also come to an end with Banks’ second start, as Nicholls State nursed a 10-point lead with less than four minutes to play in the second quarter.
But with his predecessor roaming the sidelines, Banks helped the Bulls (1-1) to a come-from-behind 27-17 victory against the Colonels in front of 26,460 fans.
“Marquel did some great things for this program, and I always want to impress him,” Banks said.
The mentor was indeed impressed, watching Banks fight back after a rough start.
“Ronnie’s looking really good,” Blackwell said. “He played really well (Saturday).”
Banks picked up his first collegiate win while extending USF’s home winning streak to 20 games, tying Texas for the second longest streak in the nation.
And although the Bulls didn’t take their first lead of the game until 9:21 in the third quarter, Blackwell never thought the streak he helped create was in jeopardy.
“I knew they weren’t going to lose this one,” Blackwell said. “It was just one of those games you have to get through, and they got through it.”
The Bulls did eventually get through the game to pick up their first win of the season, but it wasn’t as pretty, or easy, as some may have expected.
When the Bulls hit the locker room trailing 17-14 at the half, USF coach Jim Leavitt expressed some choice words with his players, words he wouldn’t relay to members of the media.
“I was fairly violent,” Leavitt said. “I was pretty animated. I said a lot in a short amount of time.”
Perhaps what Leavitt said was along different lines from the halftime speech last week that preceded the Bulls’ second-half collapse against Alabama. Whatever was said put a spark in the Bulls, as they held NSU scoreless in the second half while scoring a pair of touchdowns.
“We knew we were down, and last week we didn’t play 60 minutes,” Banks said. “I think this week we made some mistakes — we made a lot of mistakes — but we played 60 minutes.”
The Bulls offense struggled in the first half, as NSU held possession for more than 18 minutes.
“We didn’t have the ball a lot in the first half, and we need the ball to score,” wide receiver Huey Whittaker said. “So we needed to change that.”
USF didn’t have the ball much longer in the second half, but they capitalized when they had the chance.
Banks found freshman wide receiver S.J. Green for a 15-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to give the Bulls their first lead of the game. Then in the fourth, Banks connected with Elgin Hicks for a 67-yard touchdown, icing the game for the Bulls.
Banks finished 16-of-31 for 288 yards and four touchdowns, but although his numbers indicated a solid performance, he wasn’t content with the victory.
“My offensive coordinator and my quarterback coach, I’m sure they’re not happy,” Banks said. “And I’m definitely not happy with this victory.”
One reason for Banks’ displeasure was the flux of mistakes on offense, including three fumbles and one interception. Turnovers are what Banks feels the Bulls must correct in the more than two weeks before their next game at Army Sept. 27.
“We have to learn how to limit our mistakes, and great teams like the Alabamas and the Oklahomas, they’re good because they limit their mistakes,” Banks said. “We didn’t do a good job of that (Saturday), and we’re lucky we got this win.”