USF wins wobbly game against Stoney Brook

by Gary Shelton on September 3, 2017 · 0 comments

in College Sports in Florida, general

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Strong had to wait to find something worth smiling over./JEFFREY S. KING

Sunday, 2 a.m.

So far, his team isn't very good. Eventually, it has to be great.

And in the middle of those two statements, Charlie Strong walks.

He just got here. And already, fans are disappointed at how rarely his team has reached the end zone. His USF Bulls are undefeated, but admittedly, it's a wobbly 2-0 defined by two sluggish starts. His team is in the rankings. But from the looks of things, it doesn't deserve them.

He is a man in the middle, Strong. He is a well-regarded coach, but the transfer of team and its talent isn't like flipping a switch. There was a

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Flowers led the Bulls in rushing and passing./JEFFREY S. KING

moment in Saturday's post-game press conference when Strong struggled unsuccessfully for the name of Deatrick Nichols, and you thought “that's where Strong is.” He's supposed to be the anchor, but his bags are barely unpacked. He's new, and he's supposed be nuclear. Just that.

It was more of the same Saturday when the Bulls finally wore down Stoney Brook in a

Tice scored two touchdowns for USF./JEFFREY S. KING

Tice scored two touchdowns for USF./JEFFREY S. KING

31-17 game that wasn't as easy as it sounds. It was 10-7, Stoney Brook, at the half, and it was 17-17 early in the fourth quarter.

Against Stoney Brook. You know how many better teams that USF will play than Stoney Brook? All of them. That's how many.

“We've played two games and we have yet to play four quarters,” Strong said. “Last week, we didn't wake up til the second quarter. This week, we didn't really wake up til the fourth quarter. It's rhythm on offense. We have to get first downs, but to get first downs, we have to be consistent. We can't score on every play; sometimes, we're waiting for the big play. We have to take what the defense gives us.”

Sanchez had 12 tackles for USF./JEFFREY S. KING

Sanchez had 12 tackles for USF./JEFFREY S. KING

Strong was lobbed a softball question about his program, and he was incredulous.

“I thought they were awful,” he said. “I didn't think we played very well at all.

“I'm disappointed. I know we can play better than what we're playing. We have to establish a tempo. That's where the disappintment comes. I don't expect us to score on every play, but I don't expect it to be 14-10 (10-7) or whatever the halftime score was. I know we can play better.”

Perhaps part of the reason is that Strong is still building his vision; the Bulls' fans have a vision of their own. You can hear talk of an undefeated season around USF. But you don't go undefeated off what you do before Labor Day.

“It's hard to handle success,” Strong said. “When you keep hearing it all the time... I tell the players: 'Don't put pressure on yourself. Just relax and go play the game.' But a lot of times you feel when you're ranked, you go and tighten up. We don't have a reason to tighten up.”

Jeremi Hall protects Flowers./JEFFREY S. KING

Jeremi Hall protects Flowers./JEFFREY S. KING

Still, it has been as frustrating as 2-0 allows. No one expects precision; that's why teams play early season games that are glorified preseason battles. But people do expect to see flashes. They expect to see sharply thrown balls and nice catches and breakaway runs. They don't expect to see a level scoreboard against Stoney Brook.

But that's where USF is right now, and Strong along with it. The program is halfway between execution and expectations, trapped between potential and production.

Take Quinton Flowers, for instance. He's been wide of the mark, and teams aren't allowing him the running lanes he had a year ago. He averaged 3.7 yards per run, and he threw for only 186 yards (with several drops). Darius Tice averaged 3.6 yards per carry. D'Ernest Johnson averaged 1.2. No, it wasn't one of those highlight tapes the Bulls finished with last year.

Saturday, the Bulls play their opening game in the AAC when they travel to UConn Saturday at noon.

“It's going to be tougher,” Strong said. “Last week's game was at 7, and we didn't wake up until 7:30. I don't know what time we woke up today, but it wasn't early. The leadership has to take over. When the leadership takes over, this team is going to explode.”

Right now, the Bulls are halfway between lighting the fuse and delivering the payload.

For an unbeaten team, they need to get better. In a hurry.

McCants caught a 65-yard touchdown pass as USF broke away./JEFFREY S. KING

McCants caught a 65-yard touchdown pass as USF broke away./JEFFREY S. KING

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