Jeff Scott era off to winning start in 27-6 victory over The Citadel

USF had many hurdles to get past before and during Saturday’s game against The Citadel, but the Jeff Scott era is finally underway. And it started with a 27-6 win. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Jeff Scott’s head coaching debut on Saturday wasn’t in the ideal conditions.

With a fan-less Raymond James Stadium, a constant drizzle and the teams trying to shake off the rust, the game got off to a somewhat dubious start.

Both teams’ first possessions started with turnovers — for the Bulldogs, it was a fumble recovered by USF after seven plays, and for the Bulls, it was a turnover on downs after their first 10 plays.

Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, USF endured, and the Jeff Scott era began with a 27-6 win over The Citadel on Saturday.

Following the win, Scott was doused with a bucket of ice water by his team.

“I really couldn’t be more proud of our team,” a soaked Scott said via Zoom. “I tried to go into this job back in January with an open mind. Obviously, I got plenty of advice on things that happened in the past.

“I told our guys, ‘Hey, this is a new beginning, it’s a new start.'”

USF started on the back foot even before kickoff — 12 players, including center Brad Cecil, tackle Donovan Jennings and guard Demetris Harris, were ruled out of the game.

“I called all of those young men yesterday whenever we got to the hotel … and just told them, ‘hey we miss you over here, and we appreciate everything,'” Scott said. “We look forward to getting them back at some point.”

USF was able to overcome the first hurdle, and found success at the line through the backups.

Dustyn Harris, Joshua Blanchard and Jean Marcellus made their first starts for USF and helped the Bulls put up 404 total yards with zero turnovers.

“I told [Cecil, Jennings and Harris] that the guys that are replacing them are going to do their job tonight and make them proud tonight.

“For that group to go out and help us run for over 300 yards, I couldn’t be more proud,” Scott said.

The Bulls found themselves behind after The Citadel kicked a 45-yard field goal in its second possession, but the Bulls followed with their opening touchdown on the next drive.

Quarterback Jordan McCloud tossed a 10-yard pass to wide receiver DeVontres Dukes to put the Bulls ahead.

McCloud said he knew Dukes was going to be the one to haul in USF’s first touchdown of 2020.

“I made a bet with people that he would score the first touchdown on that exact route,” McCloud joked. “That was very exciting for both of us actually because I’ve been talking to him about it all week.

That tempo set with USF’s first points carried throughout the rest of the night, and the hurdles became smaller and smaller.

USF’s second touchdown came by way of a fluke — a -10-yard punt for a 0-yard touchdown return.

Bulldogs punter Matt Campbell missed the initial snap on the 10-yard line, fumbled it and attempted to kick the ball away in the end zone. His kick was cut short by receiver Omarion Dollison who grabbed the ball out of the air.

Dollison tied the NCAA record for the shortest punt return for a touchdown.

“That’s awesome. You never know how the ball is going to bounce, to be ready to capitalize,” Scott said. “I’m really proud of that.”

The Bulls scored their third touchdown of the first half by way of a 9-yard rush from quarterback Noah Johnson with 2:41 left in the second quarter. A 3-yard touchdown carried in by running back Kelly Joiner in the fourth quarter capped off a 21-point lead that USF held until the final whistle.

While the offense continued to produce, USF’s defense limited The Citadel to two field goals in the first half. The Bulldogs’ option offense was outclassed by USF’s rush game — The Citadel put up 200 rushing yards while the Bulls ran for 302.

The first heat of the race was complete.

The spirits are high, and the game went USF’s way on either side of the ball, but this is just the beginning of the marathon ahead, according to Scott.

Celebrate for now, but the attention turns to week two against Notre Dame, he said.

“Wins are hard to come by, they really are,” Scott said. “We’re going to celebrate, we’re going to enjoy it. We’ve got a 24-hour rule, we’re going to enjoy this for the next 24 hours, and come tomorrow night when the guys show up for dinner we’re going to start moving ahead and getting ready for Notre Dame.”