TAMPA, FL. – Following a miserable game at Tulane, which less than 24 hours later was followed by the firing of defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, USF heads into its season-ending War on I-4 matchup at UCF on Friday afternoon.
Last Saturday’s 45-14 defeat to the Green Wave, which piled up 35 points and 356 yards in the first half after totaling 35 points in their previous three games, was the tipping point in coach Jeff Scott dismissing Spencer.
“It was not something I really wanted to do before the end of the season, but I felt like after the (Tulane) game it was the right time,” said the second-year coach, who informed Spencer of his decision Sunday morning. “Ultimately, I felt we were not making the progress that we needed to make defensively.”
Linebackers coach Ernie Sims and special teams coach Daniel Da Prato have been running the defense this week.
The Bulls are allowing 489 yards per game to rank 125th nationally (of 130 FBS teams) and the defense has rarely made opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable, something that is reflected in a season total of nine sacks. That paltry figure is tied with Vanderbilt and UMass for last in the country.
While unable to put the pieces together for four quarters, the Bulls (2-9/1-6 American) at have had their moments while showing no signs of quitting. They have played six teams that are currently ranked or were ranked at some point this season and put a scare into a couple of them. That’s what made the loss at what was one-win Tulane all the more disheartening.
“We cannot let (the Tulane game) change some of the positive momentum that we have had throughout the season,” said Scott. “That one game does not represent our entire season. I felt there were points in other games where we were very competitive and did some things we needed to do. (Saturday) was a bad day and we have to move on and turn the page to our rivalry game.”
That means preparing for the Knights (7-4/4-3), who head into Friday’s game (3:30/ESPN) with a shot at a nine-win season. That is saying something considering they lost quarterback Dillon Gabriel to a broken clavicle in September. Coach Gus Malzahn turned to true freshman Mikey Keene, who has noticeably grown more comfortable in running the offense. UCF’s defense, meanwhile, has limited five of its last seven opponents to 17 points or less.
“This is the last rodeo before the bowl game and obviously it is a big one for us,” said Malzahn, who will face the Bulls for the first time. “I know how important (the rivalry) is to our fan base, and I am sure theirs, too. I like coaching rivalry games and I look forward to playing (USF).”
Several players at both schools either grew up together or know one another from high school and youth leagues. Hence, summoning the energy to take the field after such a dismal performance in New Orleans should not be an issue for USF.
“You don’t have to worry about bringing energy to these types of games,” said senior offensive lineman Donovan Jennings. “We just want to come out and show everyone what we know we can do, put everything on the line and hopefully get the ‘W.’”
Friday will be the 13th meeting between the teams with the previous 12 split down the middle. UCF, though, has averaged 44.7 points in winning the last four.
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