Running back Jaren Mangham may have summed it up best following South Florida’s win over Temple at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night.
“We were sick and tired of being sick and tired and we went out there and performed,” said the Colorado transfer, who ran for a career-high 152 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-14 win.
The win snapped a 17-game losing streak against Football Bowl Subdivision teams, a 13-game conference losing streak, and a 10-game skid against conference opponents at home.
Though Mangham did not join the Bulls until this year, his words pretty much reflected the feeling among his teammates, especially those who have been on board for at least a couple of seasons.
Not that anybody was giving less than his best or hanging his head after only one win in the season’s first half, but at some point, hard work and effort needs to pay off in the win column.
“They showed up, had a great attitude, and responded,” said coach Jeff Scott, during his press conference Monday. “That is a really good sign of where this team is right now and where we are headed. The goal is to get better week by week and I feel like we are doing that. When I look at our team, I see continued improvement in all three phases. I am really proud of that, especially after a difficult start to the season.”
The difficult start for the Bulls (2-5/1-2 American) included playing four of their first five games against teams – North Carolina State, Florida, BYU, SMU — that in Week 7 were all in the top 25. Sandwiched in between the gauntlet was a win over Football Championship Subdivision opponent Florida A&M, a temporary reprieve from the defeats that were piling up.
None of the losses hurt more than the heartbreaker that took place two weeks ago when Scott’s team saw a pair of double-digit leads dissolve into a 32-31 setback at the hands of visiting Tulsa.
The defeat dropped USF to 1-5 and a feeling that was, well, pretty much as Mangham put it. Sure, the Bulls were getting better. They showed as much on multiple occasions, including in the shadows of the Wasatch Mountains when they scared the dickens out of BYU in the second half of an eight-point loss against what was the No. 15 team in the country. The problem was putting together a solid 60 minutes in which all three phases clicked.
Something clicked, though, against Temple and with fourth-year tight end Chris Carter serving as the spark. His effort, which will be talked about for quite some time around the Selmon Athletics Center, underscored what Scott has been preaching since he arrived on campus in December 2019.
The Bulls took the opening kickoff and drove to Temple’s 10-yard-line, where the drive stalled resulting in a field goal attempt. An errant snap was scooped up by the Owls’ Keyshawn Paul, who was on his way for what seemed to be a 66-yard return for a touchdown and an early Temple lead.
Instead, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Carter sprinted down the field to tackle the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Paul. Four plays later, the Bulls’ Mekhi LaPointe intercepted a D’Wan Mathis pass in the end zone. USF took the ensuing drive 80 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead, a lead they would not relinquish.
“Watching that (play) is what I feel about and what I know about this team,” said Scott. “I really think we are going to look back at that play and that game at the end of the season as when we were really able to kind of flip the script and start becoming who we really are.”
While it was a one-score game heading into the latter stages of the third quarter, the Bulls ultimately pulled away from the Owls thanks in very large part to a running game that produced a team record 421 yards and was the impetus behind an eye-opening 44:35 time of possession, which set another school mark.
“It is one thing as a coach to tell them they are improving and tell them you are proud of them,” said Scott. “But at the end of the day, they have to see results, too. They can’t just keep hearing it and not get results. For them to see the hard work they put in and the response they made (following the Tulsa loss) turn into a victory, I think will encourage them and motivate them even more to what is possible here moving forward.”
Moving forward, at least in the immediate term, has meant preparing for ECU (3-4/1-2) during a short week. The Bulls seek to put together a two-game win streak — which would be their first since 2019 and first back-to-back conference wins since 2018 — when they play the Pirates in Greenville, N.C. on Thursday night (7:30). The game will be televised on ESPN.
“It will be a great opportunity for our team and our program to hopefully showcase the progress that we have been making,” said Scott. “Our guys are feeling pretty good going into Thursday night’s game.”
The Bulls, who are 5-0 at ECU, return to Raymond James Stadium next Saturday night (7:30/ESPNU) to take on Houston. Their final home game will be Friday night November 12 (6:00/ESPN2) against current No. 2/3 Cincinnati.
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