USF is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1998, but in all three wins the Bulls haven’t given their fans much room to breathe.
Saturday’s 24-17 win against the University of Central Florida was the third time in as many games this season USF has gone into the locker room trailing at halftime. However, the Bulls have managed to come away with the victory every time.
“It just shows the determination of our team,” junior cornerback Trae Williams said after the UCF game. “Coach (Jim Leavitt) tells us never to give up. We’ve been down the first two weeks, so this isn’t really anything new.”
Although the Bulls were losing at halftime against the Golden Knights, they were only down 10-7, compared to 20-7 against Florida International University on Sept. 9. The smaller gap left Leavitt unconcerned at the break.
“A 10-7 ballgame, that’s a good football team,” Leavitt said about UCF. “I didn’t have any problem with (10-7), really.”Having battled back the first two weeks of the season (the Bulls also trailed 10-7 at halftime to Division I-AA McNeese State in the season opener Sept. 2), players kept a positive attitude in the locker room.
“The guys felt like we could pull this thing off,” junior wide receiver Amarri Jackson said about the players at halftime on Saturday. “I was one of those guys in the locker room that was kind of down, and I had a lot of defensive players and receivers come to me and tell me, ‘We were down last week; we can pull this thing off.’ “
USF has scored just seven points in the first half of each game this season, and costly penalties haven’t helped the slow starts. The Bulls’ 13-point halftime deficit against FIU might have been avoided if flags hadn’t negated two punt returns for touchdowns by senior wide receiver Ean Randolph.
“There’s always a few mistakes in the beginning of the game that kill us,” redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Grothe said. “Take off two or three mistakes in the first half of each game, and we win every game by at least 21.”
Coming into this season, expectations were high for USF’s defense, which returned all three of last season’s starting linebackers (Stephen Nicholas, Ben Moffitt and Patrick St. Louis) and both its starting cornerbacks (Williams and Mike Jenkins).
After three scoreless second halves by opposing offenses, the defense has lived up to its expectations and helped give Grothe and the offense opportunities to come back in games.
“You don’t know what the offense is going to do, so you’re always trying to go out there and keep points off the board,” St. Louis said. “It’s not about coming from behind; it’s about going out there and doing your best and making sure you get the (win) at the end of the game.”
Moffitt, who is second on the team with 18 tackles, said it would be nice to win by a big margin and not have to come from behind every week; but as long as USF wins, the fourth-quarter comebacks are OK with him.
“It’s huge whenever you have a lead and you can sit on that lead,” Moffitt said. “But it doesn’t matter to me. Any way we win – if we come from behind by 40 points, it doesn’t matter, as long as we win.”