BULLS LOOK FOR A STRONG FINISH IN THE 13TH EDITION OF THE WAR ON I-4

25 Nov 2021 | 04:53 | Basketball

All season long, USF coach Jeff Scott has said his team’s success is predicated on playing well in all four quarters of a game. Despite the season’s frustrations and inconsistencies, Scott has praised his team’s effort and dedication.

“Regardless of (previous game results), I feel like there’s a good finish out there for us,” Scott said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. “Here’s the last opportunity for that. There’s no better time for us to play our best game.”

The Bulls (2-9, 1-6 AAC) will conclude the 2021 season on Friday afternoon with the annual “War On I-4” game against the rival UCF Knights (7-4, 4-3 AAC) in Orlando.

Most years, the USF-UCF matchup is a spirited, emotional, colorful affair. Who can forget the 49-42 classic won by UCF in 2017, when the Bulls and Knights, both ranked in the top 25, were playing for a spot in the American Athletic Conference championship game? Last season in Tampa, USF pushed UCF to the limit, ultimately falling 58-46 as the teams combined for 104 points and 1,223 yards in a dizzying offensive showcase.

USF has shown a recent ability to put up big points, averaging 33.8 points in the four AAC home games following the bye week, including 42 points against No. 20 Houston and 28 against No. 2 Cincinnati.

But Scott is also wary about UCF’s explosive scoring ability. The Knights lost starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel to a broken clavicle on the final play of a 42-35 defeat at Louisville on Sept. 17, but freshman Mikey Keene has shown steady improvement and productivity.

“He is very well coached and knows where to go with the ball,” Scott said. “They are so talented with the wide receiver speed they have. You watch them on tape against SMU and it looks like they are running right by them (defensive backs) like they are standing still. They have good backs, too, and they play at a high tempo.”

Meanwhile, UCF’s defense ranks third in the AAC (373.9 yards per game) and has surrendered fewer than 300 yards of offense in five games (all UCF victories).

On both side of the ball, USF has a formidable challenge.

“UCF plays with tempo,” Bulls defensive lineman Thad Mangum said. “They try to play really fast with a lot of motion and different eye candy to get you off your details. We’ve got to stay composed.”

“I love these types of games because everyone brings their A-game,” Bulls offensive tackle Donovan Jennings said. “We want to come out and show everyone what we know we can do.”

Defensive Staff Changes

Scott said special teams coordinator Daniel Da Prato and linebackers coach Ernie Sims will serve as co-interim defensive coordinators for the game at UCF. Sunday, Scott said he decided to part ways with veteran defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer.

“Coach Spencer is a really good man and a really good coach,” Scott said. “But sometimes, it just doesn’t mesh and it just doesn’t work. Ultimately, I felt like we weren’t making the progress we needed to make defensively. … Coach Spencer was here early in the morning and late at night, trying everything he knew to try. At the end of the day, it wasn’t bringing the results we needed.

“You ask yourself as a coach if you’re putting guys in position where they have a chance to make plays consistently. You ask if you’re seeing improvement as the season goes on. … A few weeks back, this wasn’t my plan to make this kind of move with one game left. But we are hoping to finish strong and I felt like this the best time.”

Scott said Da Prato and Sims will bring “new voices” and some renewed energy. Scott said it’s not realistic to “change the whole defense and install a new defense,” but said “there are things within our scheme and package that we haven’t done much this year, maybe some things we can do to help our guys be successful.”

Scott said he’s beginning to assemble names of candidates for the permanent defensive coordinator position, which he said already has generated hot interest. He will begin vetting and interviewing candidates, while also working toward the Dec. 15 start of the NCAA Early Signing Period.

There isn’t a specific timetable for naming the new defensive coordinator.

“I understand a lot of people want to know who we will hire and I know it’s a very important hire for our program,” Scott said. “It’s not about how quick we can make the hire. It’s about making the right hire.”

Wrapping Up Tulane

Scott said Saturday’s 45-14 loss at Tulane was a “bad day.”

“We coached bad and we played bad,” Scott said. “I was confident with how our guys prepared and practiced. We took the lead on the first drive and that went as expected. Then they scored on a long run. We threw an interception and they scored again. And that was like a tide you could not turn. We’re not at a place as a program where we’ve been able to overcome that.

“That one game doesn’t represent our entire season. We have to throw it away and move on, turn the page and go to our rivalry game. We have responded pretty well to adversity most of this season and I’m confident we’ll do it again.”

Scott said he expects a rebound from freshman quarterback Timmy McClain, who was 15 of 27 for 132 yards, while being sacked five times.

“We’re not giving Timmy away … we love Timmy,” Scott said. “The way the game went, we got behind so quickly. He threw an interception on our second series and sometimes that bothers a young quarterback. We wanted to stay on schedule running the ball, but that game plan changed and we just weren’t in a position offensively where we could be as successful (throwing the ball more often).

“Have I seen progress out of Timmy overall? Absolutely. He was one of a hundred people who had a bad day (against Tulane). He has come back to work with a lot of focus and energy. I think he’s going to respond really well.”

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