A fully packed stadium of blue, orange and sprinkles of green were on the edge of their seats in a game nobody predicted.
South Florida lost to Florida 31-28 in The Swamp on Saturday night after a botched field goal kick with 23 seconds left of the game that would have brought the game into overtime.
Speculations about how the Bulls would handle the intense stadium were in the air and USA Today Sports favored then-No. 18 Florida to win with a 25-point margin. Although USF could not pull the victory in the end, coach Jeff Scott believed it was the best they played all season.
Major improvements since Week 1
After three games, USF showed major improvements and looked like a completely different team.
During Game 1 against then-No. 25 BYU, the Bulls had 279 total yards and only 109 rushing yards. On Saturday, South Florida had 402 total yards and 286 rushing yards.
From having a solid game plan to performing well in a loud environment, Scott said this was the first time he saw USF play at the level he knew they were capable of.
“I expect our guys to take the positives out of this game, and even some of the hurt from this game, and let that be the new foundation for this team moving forward,” Scott said.
Other things Scott wanted to fix after the BYU game USF was able to accomplish against the Gators. The Bulls played consistently through all four quarters and started the game well.
Identity found: Rushing offensive
South Florida finally found a formula of running the ball that worked on Saturday.
Junior quarterback Gerry Bohanon used his dual-threat abilities against the Gators. He posted 116 passing yards, 102 rushing yards and grabbed his career-first rushing touchdown for South Florida.
The backbone behind the successful offense was the Bull’s offensive line. Even with the size difference of the Florida defense, they were still able to create clear paths. Sophomore running back Brian Battie believed they were the key in play making.
“I give all the credit to my big guys and they opened up holes all night,” Battie said. “So for me and Gerry, it was just up to us.”
Nailing 150 rushing yards and one touchdown, Battie was South Florida’s golden ticket to moving down the field and establishing their rushing identity.
USF has been lacking chemistry on the offense, which caused Scott to preach the need to work together as a unit early in the season. After their show in Gainesville, the Bulls accomplished finding both.
Regardless of the loss, the game was exciting to watch. USF’s two interceptions were accredited to that.
Three minutes into the third quarter, senior defensive back Dwayne Boyles’ interceptions brought USF to Florida’s 18-yard line. The gain gave Bohanon leverage to rush six yards up the middle for a touchdown.
It didn’t stop there, South Florida finished the drive snagging a two-point conversion after a double-pass play between wide receivers Sean Atkins and Xavier Weaver.
Freshman defensive back Aamaris Brown also caught an interception in the fourth quarter at first and goal, keeping the Gators from what could have been the game-winning touchdown.
Although the Bulls took a step in the right direction, the penalties made the Bulls move three steps back.
In the third quarter, the Bulls were two yards away from a first down. However, a pass interference and a delay of game set them back 10 yards, forcing a punt return back to the Gators.
Within the second drive of the game, South Florida had two penalties that cost them 15 yards in total.
Despite the improvement already in the season, the Bulls can’t afford to lose gains from penalties, especially when it comes to close games.
USF defense still needs work
An underperforming defense set the Bulls back from winning the game.
Defensively, USF played slow and missed tackles. South Florida only recorded 46 total tackles in comparison to Florida’s 76.
In earlier weeks, Scott emphasized the need of improving the defense, which they did to an extent.
“We didn’t play our best,” Scott said. “We played better than we played [before], but we still didn’t play our best tonight.”
While progress was made, it still wasn’t enough to create a win. Going into Week 4, being quicker and more physical is still something they need to work on.