Bulls ready for home opener Saturday

Wide receiver Marques Valdez-Scantling led all USF receivers against San Jose State last Saturday with six catches for 91 yards. THE ORACLE/JACKIE BENITEZ

USF’s start to the 2017 season was bleak out of the gate as the Bulls fell behind 16-0 in the first quarter of last Saturday’s game at San Jose State.

Missing on all cylinders, USF struggled to move the ball on offense, execute on special teams and keep the Spartans off the scoreboard in the game’s opening 15 minutes.

However, the second quarter brought new life to the Bulls as they rallied and won 42-22. With the shaky start behind them, Strong and the Bulls’ are turning their attention to Saturday’s home opener against Stony Brook.

“There were so many breakdowns in all three phases of the game,” coach Charlie Strong said concerning the San Jose State game. “The players didn’t feel like they played well either, but everything can be corrected (before Stony Brook).

“You always look for big improvement from Game 1 to Game 2, which we should have (on Saturday).”

Stony Brook plays in college football’s second tier (Division I-AA) and finished last season 5-6, tied for 7th place in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) conference. Saturday’s game against No. 19 USF will be the Sea Wolves’ first game of the season and first game in program history against a ranked opponent.

Lead by 2016 third-team All CAA running back Stacey Bedell (698 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns (TD) in 2016), the Sea Wolves will look to exploit the Bulls’ rushing defense and keep the Bulls’ fast paced offense off the field as much as possible.

“It’s going to be a big-time challenge for our front seven,” defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said. “We don’t look at classification, as far as level of football, where they’re from or any accolades. All we know is when we turn on the film, they try to maul people.

“They have some big guys and they want to play some smash-mouth football.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Sea Wolves are returning nine starters including senior defensive back Tyrice Beverette (98 tackles, 4.5 sacks in 2016) and defensive lineman John Haggart (four sacks, four forced fumbles in 2016).

As a whole, the Sea Wolves’ defense allowed the third least total yards per game (274.4) in Division I-AA and had the 9th best-run defense that gave up 101.1 yards per game in 2016. The Bulls ran for 348 yards in their victory Saturday and accumulated 548 yards in total in that bout.

“They’re sound in what they do defensively,” offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said on Stony Brook after Wednesday’s practice. “They create havoc, they’re physical and we need to go out and play well. They’ve been a top (group) in the FCS.”

Possibly needing to rely more on the passing game this Saturday, quarterback Quinton Flowers will try to replicate his week-one connections with wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling (6 catches, 91 yards), Temi Alaka (41 yards, TD) and Darnell Salomon (43 yards, TD) again in week two.

Still missing a piece of the offense however, the Bulls will be without wide receiver Ryesheen Bronson (shoulder) for the second straight game on Saturday. Offensive guard Michael Wiggs, line backer Danny Thomas and wide receiver Deangelo Antoine, who did not dress out last Saturday, are on track to play in the home opener Saturday, according to Strong.

After starting the season on the road for the first time since 2011, the Bulls are excited to be home for Saturday’s match up.

“There’s nothing like playing at home,” Valdes-Scantling said at a press conference Tuesday. “There’s nothing better than that.” 

Saturday will be the second time Stony Brook has traveled to Tampa, as the Bulls’ defeated the Sea Wolves 59-10 in 2010’s season opener.

Despite their status as a Division I-AA school who’s coming of a losing season, the Bulls are not treating Saturday’s game against the Sea Wolves any different than usual.

 “You’re never really playing an opponent,” Strong said. “You’re playing against yourself. We have to have the focus and we have to be mentally focused and we have to go into the game and get better.

 “(We) have to know how to handle success, how to handle the expectations and know that it doesn’t matter what people say.”

Saturday’s game will begin at 4 p.m. at Raymond James stadium and will be aired on ESPN3.