Few would have thought that four weeks into the 2017 season it would be the USF defense that led the Bulls to a 4-0 start and not preseason Heisman candidate Quinton Flowers and the offense.
After USF’s 43-7 thumping of Temple last Thursday night, however, here we are.
USF forced six turnovers, allowed Temple only 85 total yards of offense and contained every Owl running back to under 25 yards rushing.
Though it was USF’s best defensive performance of the season — and arguably best in school history — last week, it wasn’t their first solid outing this season.
The Bulls are ranked 13th of 129 eligible teams for total defense so far in 2017 and are first in the AAC. Moving forward, it’s time to give all Bulls' defensive players the respect and attention they deserve.
After all, if things continue the way they have been thus far, 2017 could be the season where USF makes it into a New Year's-Six bowl game for the first time in school history, and should the Bulls continue to average 3 1/2 takeaways a game, there’s little reason to believe they won’t with the remaining schedule they have.
USF is currently tied with Utah for first among all Football Subdivision Schools (FBS) for total number of turnovers forced with 14. The 14 turnovers are more than the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation, Alabama and Clemson, have recorded in 2017 combined.
“Last year, we lost confidence because the offense was scoring so much so it turned into a scoring match,” Strong said last Thursday. “Once it turned into a scoring match, the defense felt that they weren’t doing their part.
“Whenever we scrimmaged in the spring and fall I made it all about the defense and tried to build their confidence.”
Whatever Strong did differently is certainly paying dividends now.
Even in plays that you can’t see on paper, the Bulls are thriving where they were absent in years past.
The Bulls are identifying reverses and trick plays before they develop, and even stuffed a fake field goal attempt by Temple last week for a 19-yard loss.
Defensive backs are flying to the ball in the secondary. Seniors Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector are stopping everything that comes up the middle. Anything that slips by is immediately met with force from the linebackers and defensive backs.
The 2017 Bulls defense is legit, and if the Bulls are to make it to a New Year's Six bowl game, they’ll be the reason why.