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Looking to bounce back

USF defeated Georgia Tech in their first ever meeting last year in Tampa. The two teams meet again Saturday in Atlanta. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

It’s fair to wonder how USF football (0-1) will respond against Georgia Tech (0-1) on Saturday, especially considering it’s coming off the largest defeat in program history — a 49-0 loss against then-No. 19 Wisconsin.

For their part, the Bulls seem to be in good spirits.

“It’s tough to get popped in the mouth the first game,” tight end Mitchell Wilcox said. “But this team is built for adversity and can deal with it, and we’re going to bounce back. I’m sure of it.”

A big key for USF against the Yellow Jackets will be whether its offense can get anything going after struggling last week. The Bulls were only able to net 157 yards in the season opener.

“Well, all I know to do is you put it in the past and you learn from it, and we have showed them the film,” offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell said. “You’ve just got to work a little bit harder, and you’ve just got to continue to believe in yourself. You can’t lose confidence.”

Of USF’s 157 yards, just 26 came on the ground.

“I’ve got to take the blame,” Bell said. “We didn’t move the ball the way I thought we would. We surely didn’t run it — we’ve got to have more balance.” 

More importantly for the Bulls, they can’t afford to let one loss turn into anything more.

“Week 1 doesn’t define us,” defensive end Greg Reaves said. “We’ve still got 11 more opportunities. We can’t let last week beat us … we have another opportunity ahead of us. Let’s just go 1-0 this week. You can’t change what happened in the past.”

Regarding the past: the only prior meeting between the two teams came last year in Week 2, when the Bulls pulled off a wild, come-from-behind 49-38 victory. Most notably, Terrence Horne returned back-to-back kickoffs for touchdowns during the first quarter, becoming the first player in AAC history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game.

 

But Georgia Tech has different leadership than the team that came to Raymond James Stadium last September, although that leader is not unfamiliar to the Bulls.

After longtime coach Paul Johnson retired at the end of 2018, the Yellow Jackets hired Geoff Collins to replace him. Collins coached at Temple the past two seasons, leading the Owls to a 15-10 record.

“Even though the personnel is different, the scheme is similar, like on defense, they’re going to do the same things they did at Temple,” coach Charlie Strong said. “Offensively, I think what he’s done is he’s catered to his personnel, because the quarterback for them is the one that makes their offense go.”

While the triple-option offense that was run under Johnson may be a thing of that past, make no mistake, Georgia Tech loves keeping the ball on the ground.

“We’re pretty familiar with their staff coming from Temple,” Reaves said. “I’ve seen that offense for the last four-five years. I know they love to run the ball. They have some pretty good players, a pretty dynamic quarterback.”

In last year’s game, Georgia Tech’s quarterbacks ran all over the Bulls’ defense. Senior TaQuon Marshall and freshman Tobias Oliver combined for 210 net yards rushing and four touchdowns. While Marshall is gone, expect more of the same from the now-sophomore Oliver, who was the leading second-leading rusher in Georgia Tech’s 52-14 loss to No. 1 Clemson last week.

“You have a quarterback that’s very, very talented running the ball, as we saw last year,” defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said. “So they’ve added a lot more quarterback run.

“They like their receivers, but obviously it’s going to be a different type of passing game because they’re coming from an option background with the quarterbacks. So it presents a different challenge. But at the end of the day, they’re going to lean on what they feel is most successful.”

If the Bulls can get past Georgia Tech, it would snap what is now tied for the longest losing streak in program history. Despite the obvious difficulties of the lengthy losing streak, currently capped off by an almost 50-point defeat on national television, veteran leaders like Wilcox are attempting to keep things together.

“Leadership comes into play here — definitely when we don’t have the result we want,” Wilcox said. “We’ve just got to bring the young guys along — if they’re contributing … they’ve got to follow the older guys and just really work hard to stay the course.”

The Bulls and Yellow Jackets kick off at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday at 2 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the all-new ACC Network.