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USF defense regains its footing

South Florida defensive tackle Keith McCaskill raised his arms after slamming Connecticut quarterback Tyler Lorenzen to the ground and watched the ball fall incomplete on the fourth down — a play that clinched the Bulls’ 17-13 victory Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium.

The defense finally held its ground.

“It feels great, man,” USF safety Carlton Williams said. “I hadn’t even realized how long it had been since we’d won last. It’d been a month.”

The USF defense had blown two late-fourth-quarter leads in the Bulls’ four losses this season.

On Sunday night, however, the defense held through the Huskies’ final two possessions, ending USF’s three-game losing streak.

Williams said the defense learned from its previous blunders.

“I hate to say it, but (the losses) were a learning experience for us,” he said. “Regardless of what was happening, we knew that we were going to have to go out and stop their offense in order to win.”

Connecticut got the ball on its second-to-last possession at the USF 44-yard line, trailing 17-13, with fewer than seven minutes remaining.

On fourth-and-4 at USF’s 36, Lorenzen scrambled for the first down. But USF’s Jerome Murphy forced him to fumble, and freshman cornerback Quentin Washington recovered it at the 25-yard line with 5:38 remaining.

It was South Florida’s only turnover of the game.

“The defense finally did what they were supposed to do,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “They just went out there and played defensive football, and held their ground.”

The Huskies got the ball back with 1:28 left on the clock — and one last chance to win.

But senior defensive end Jarriet Buie sacked Lorenzen, and McCaskill forced him to make an incomplete throw on fourth-and-20 from the UConn 9-yard line, sealing the victory.

Junior defensive end George Selvie said he knew the defense would step up, despite blowing late leads to Pittsburgh and Louisville earlier in the season.

“We were just physical with them tonight,” he said. “It was a big point in the game, and we knew we had to stop them, so that’s what we went out and did.”

Coach Jim Leavitt said it was pleasing to see the defense come through late in the game.

“I thought they did a great job,” he said. “We were relentless on defense, and the guys played the whole way through.”