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Bulls’ increased pressure on quarterbacks paying off

Junior linebacker Auggie Sanchez (left) had a career-high three sacks in USF’s 15-point win over UConn last Saturday. ORACLE PHOTO/JACOB HOAG

Shooting the gap and blowing past the running back assigned to protect UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, junior linebacker Auggie Sanchez grabbed the quarterback by the torso, spun him around and threw him down before throwing up his ‘Bull Shark’ horns in celebration. 

This is only one of many plays that ended abruptly in the Huskies’ backfield Saturday.

In USF’s first five games this season, the Bulls combined to get to the quarterback 11 times as a team. With the five sacks recorded against the Huskies on Saturday, the Bulls have managed eight sacks over their last two games.

Sophomore defensive back Jaymon Thomas, who recorded his first career sack against UConn, said that increasing the pressure in their opponents’ backfield is as simple as trusting everyone defensively to just do their job.

“You have to have trust if you’re on that field,” said Thomas, who recorded sacks on back-to-back plays against UConn. “That’s the main thing. If you don’t trust one another, you aren’t going to be efficient. There has to be a lot of trust on that field, and we trust each other.”

The captain of the defense, Sanchez, leads the team with six sacks, including three against UConn. He credits the trust he has in players like Thomas and the rest the Bulls’ secondary to have his back when it’s his turn to bring the heat.

“When the season started, I said the secondary had the most depth out here,” Sanchez said. “You have guys back there like Ronnie (Hoggins), Deatrick (Nichols), Jaymon … guys back there that have played some football, and we trust them. 

“They do a good job, and they were really great and efficient for us against UConn. They were like a well-oiled machine back there.”

Along with Thomas and Nichols, defensive backs Nate Godwin and Tajee Fullwood have all recorded at least one tackle for loss in the last two games.

Even after recording his first career sack earlier this year in a 48-17 win over Northern Illinois, Sanchez still swings the credit towards the trust he has in the defensive line to do their part on a defense that now averages almost three sacks a game (2.71).

“It’s a hard play to get,” Sanchez said. “It’s probably one of the hardest things to get in college football. (Our) defensive line, they really help too with all that. Just the whole process is really exciting.”

Junior defensive tackle Deadrin Senat, who leads all USF defensive linemen with 33 tackles, credits Sanchez with making the right decisions on the field to put the rest of the ‘Bull Sharks’ in a position to make a big play.

“With our linebackers, especially Auggie Sanchez, he has the ability to check things and put us in the best positions he sees fit,” Senat said.

Challenged with a short week of preparation, USF will look to keep up its defensive intensity against Friday night’s opponent, Temple (4-3, 2-1).

While folding in some new wrinkles to match what they see from the Owls’ offense, Senat trusts what he has seen from he rest of the ‘Bull Sharks.’

“We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing,” Senat said. “But, we’re going to try different plays, different calls, different schemes because they like to run the ball a lot … but, it’s a short week, we’re not going to do too much. We’re going to keep it simple for everyone to know their job and execute.”

Even after decisively beating the Owls last year 44-23 in Tampa, the Bulls were still forced to watch Temple play in the AAC Championship game.

With a win Friday, the Bulls have an opportunity to achieve more firsts in program history. 

Bulls’ coach Willie Taggart recalled how his team felt at the end of last season, and still covets an opportunity at an AAC Championship as Temple earned last year.

“We just talk about that feeling we all had watching them play for the AAC Championship while we were here practicing for a bowl,” Taggart said.

“I think we we’re all disgusted and ticked off, but we understand we have to do more to get what we want. Temple earned what they got last year, so we have to earn what we want.”

The Owls’ rushing attack is a double threat, splitting carries between sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead and senior Jahad Thomas.

Armstead and Thomas are tied for second in the AAC in rushing touchdowns with seven alongside USF quarterback Quinton Flowers.

An already opportunistic USF defense will look to feast on Owls senior quarterback Phillip Walker, who has already thrown 10 interceptions this season. 

The Bulls will also look to add to their growing sack average as well, going up against a Temple offense line that has given up 17 sacks on the season.

Hungry to cause some more chaos in the opposing backfield, Sanchez will have every opportunity to make more “cool” plays against the Owls on Friday night.

“I just think sacks are cool,” Sanchez said.

“It’s a special moment just to hit the quarterback and just see all your hard work pan out.”