Among heads hung in defeat and raised fists of victory, a lone Bull stood on the field in front of reporters.
Only minutes after the Bulls’ 13-10 loss to TCU in front of a national audience on ESPN2 Friday, Brian Fisher, the game’s near-savior, graciously stopped to answer questions for an inquisitive media trying to encapsulate the moment’s emotion in just a few words. The mood was somber as Fisher talked about the end of USF’s 21-game home winning streak.
“It’s not just us that lost; it’s all the people before us that started the streak,” Fisher said. “That’s why we take it so…”
At that moment, Fisher turned from the cameras and the microphones, only to come back and finish what he had started. The tears were indistinguishable from the sweat, but it was obvious that Fisher had just been crying.
“That’s why we take it seriously,” Fisher continued. “(The streak) is over now. We have to start one over again. We’ll be back.”
The end of the Bulls’ streak was a low-scoring, defense-dominated battle at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls’ defense limited No. 17 TCU to 13 points, but couldn’t quite overcome a Frogs’ defense that suffocated the Bulls’ offense with wave after wave of pass rushers breaching a beleaguered Bulls’ offensive line. With no options left and trailing 13-3, it was Fisher who brought hope to the deflated Bulls early in the fourth quarter.
The junior turned a would-be 10-yard punt return loss into a 35-yard gain that set the Bulls up at the Frogs’ 32-yard line. The big play reignited the crowd and the Bulls’ sideline.
With momentum finally on his side, USF coach Jim Leavitt replaced sack-weary starting quarterback Ronnie Banks with Fisher. USF’s impact player put together a six-play drive that culminated in a 19-yard touchdown pass to senior Elgin Hicks to bring the game within three.
“Brian is — what can you say about that man?” Leavitt said. “He is very special. He is a special guy.”
The TCU defense threw everything they could at the Bulls Friday, and the less-than-agile Banks fell victim to the pressure, getting sacked nine times. TCU’s sack count for the night was 10, four more than USF had ever allowed in a game.
With less than four minutes in the game, the Bulls faced third down and 18. On the crucial play, Leavitt put Banks back in, but all was for naught as Banks’ pass to Hicks fell incomplete.
“It was the right decision,” Leavitt said. “As a coach you question decisions. I know I do. But I don’t question that I think we did the right thing putting Ronnie in there.”
With no timeouts left and the seconds sliding off the clock, USF’s defense needed one more stop to get back in the game. After two rushes, TCU faced third and two and the Frogs ran one more time, picking up a questionable first down.
“It was very controversial,” defensive tackle Lee Roy Selmon Jr. said. “The refs are funny guys — sometimes they mark the ball where his knee hits, sometimes they mark it where the ball goes down — and I do think it was a terrible spot because his knees were a good two feet behind the first down marker.”
Despite giving up a touchdown, USF’s defense did its job Friday. Selmon and the defensive line allowed only 100 yards rushing, while the backfield gave up only 133 passing yards.
TCU was slow moving the ball as USF allowed 3.6 yards per play.
“I was very happy with the performance of our line,” Selmon said. “(TCU) averaged, I think, 1.9 on the ground per gain and they didn’t break out for any kind of yards outstanding. We definitely shut down the run and they didn’t have much going on the pass. They just got a few lucky breaks.”
Pressure was the story of the game, with the Frogs virtually shutting down USF’s passing game. Banks finished the game 11-of-21 with only 68 yards. The Bulls’ rushing game was also held hostage, as USF gained 106 yards on 35 touches.
“Their gameplan was to get as much pressure on us as possible,” center Alex Herron said. “They played the game, ‘We’ll get to you quicker than you can get the ball off,’ and it seemed to work very well.”
Despite the smothering defense, Fisher was able to pick up 114 all-purpose yards, proving his worth as a versatile player. No matter which position he plays Fisher has one thing on his mind.
“Winning — that’s all I think about, winning,” Fisher said. “I play play-to-play. They brought me here to win, and that’s what I try to do.”