The USF football team picked up its first win of the season in convincing fashion Saturday night, defeating Florida A&M 38-17 in front of 29,475 fans at Raymond James Stadium.
Not only is it the first win in over a year, it’s also USF’s 100th all-time home win.
“It’s been a long year, [we’ve] been through a lot of things,” coach Jeff Scott said. “The natural thing to do with as much adversity as we’ve been through this year and part of last year is to split up and divide, and our guys have not done that.
“They’ve stuck together, they’ve continued to work hard, showing up each and every day and continuing to move forward. We talk a lot about grit, just continuing to move forward in the face of adversity, and the guys have done that.”
Heading into the game, it was unknown who would start at quarterback for USF, but freshman Timmy McClain was announced as the game’s starter moments before kickoff, and he proceeded to have a clean game for the Bulls en route to victory.
Despite fumbling on the game’s opening drive, McClain finished the night 12-of-23 for 163 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 51 yards on 14 attempts. The majority of that production came in the first half.
“We gave Timmy all the first-team snaps all week long,” Scott said. “Really, he’s been sharing reps with the twos since he’s been here. [I] really felt like he needed to get all the first team reps if he was going to go out and be a starter. He did a good job this week.
“There’s times tonight where he made some really nice plays, and [other times] where he looked like a freshman. That’s part of it, I’ve coached freshmen quarterbacks before and this is the first time he’s ever started a game. I think he definitely does some things that can help us offensively … The exciting part about him is he’s got a lot of room to grow.”
McClain’s night ended a bit prematurely, however, as he was pulled just before the start of the fourth quarter when sophomore Katravis Marsh went in.
It was of no fault of his own, though, according to Scott.
“[Playing Marsh] had nothing to do with Timmy,” Scott said. “[Marsh] has done really well, [he’s] a good player. Usually, the first three or four games we give our quarterbacks some opportunities. We felt like Cade [Fortin] got a lot of opportunities in the first two games … [Marsh] only got one series last week.
“So we went into the game knowing that [Marsh] would be the next guy in, really just from a standpoint of we need to give him some opportunity to see him in live game action, so that we can continue to make evaluations on that position.”
Picking up where it left off at the end of the UF game, USF’s offense came out hot in the first half with 24 points.
Junior receiver Xavier Weaver and McClain’s connection was an integral part of the success in the first 30 minutes of the game, as the duo connected on four passes for 60 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
“I just try to go out there and play my game,” Weaver said. “I like all the boys to get the ball, but when the ball comes my way, I’m going to try to go get it.”
The backfield committee also had quite the night under the lights. Specifically, sophomore Brian Battie rushed for 110 yards on 10 carries, and junior Jaren Mangham tallied a hat trick with three touchdowns.
Mangham’s trio of scores is the most in a game by a single USF player since Johnny Ford collected three touchdowns against UConn in 2018.
“Our new running backs coach Cam Aiken has done a really good job with the running backs,” Scott said. “If you look at the pass protection of the running backs and you look at all four of those guys being able to go in there and know what to do, that’s been a really good addition.”
Although the offense showed its power, the defense was able to bend but not break for virtually the entire night.
Despite surrendering 380 total yards and only forcing one turnover, USF’s defense held the Rattlers to just three points in the first half and 14 in the second, including a late fourth quarter touchdown with 6:10 remaining in the game.
“Defensively, [in] the first half, I thought we did a good job,” Scott said. “We held them to negative seven yards rushing in the first half and they were 0-for-8 on third downs. Obviously we didn’t finish the right way defensively. They were able to find a lot of points there in the second half [and] we’ve got to clean that up.
“We just don’t have a lot of depth right now, those guys kind of got worn down there in the second half … We’ll have to learn from that. Guys are going to have to be in shape [and] play four quarters if our depth is [where it’s at now.]”
Now, three weeks into the season, the Bulls will look to build on the momentum gained against FAMU.
“We’ll enjoy this for the next 24 hours,” Scott said. “We’ve got a short week … We’ve got a lot of work to do before we leave Thursday afternoon.”
USF’s next game will be on the road against No. 23 BYU at 10:15 p.m. on Sept. 25. The game will be televised on either ESPN2 or ESPNU and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.