Notes: USF o-line keeps Bowers in check
CHARLOTTE -- All the talk coming in was about Clemson's All-American defensive end, Da'Quan Bowers, but USF's offensive line and an offensive gameplan heavy on screens and short, quick passes helped the Bulls neutralize the future first-round NFL draft pick.
"It's the same thing that happened at Florida, at Miami and several times during the year: Too many people undersell these kids," offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler said. "That's a pretty good offensive line. They rose to the challenge. They read all the articles you guys write. They were confident, obviously aware of the challenge they had, but they just rose to the occasion."
Bowers, who led the nation with 15.5 sacks, was held without one for just the second time in 11 games, limited to a single tackle for loss after racking up 25 during the regular season. The line -- senior tackles Jamar Bass and Jake Sims, senior center Sampson Genus and junior guards Chaz Hine and Jeremiah Warren -- had confidence from three good weeks of preparation, Sims said.
Bowers could be the top pick in this year's draft, and Sims said he'll always be able to say he lined up against him and helped his team to victory.
"It's exciting," Sims said. "I hope he does well, gives me a story to tell. I'm glad he didn't do too well against me."
STEPPING OUT EARLY: Redshirt freshman safety JaQuez Jenkins got a huge play with an interception on the first play of the fourth quarter, and while his 48-yard return was the longest in the bowl's history, he lost track of where he was running down the sideline and stepped out at the 5-yard line, earning plenty of grief from his teammates.
"I was trying to direct traffic, and when I did, I lost awareness on the field," said Jenkins, a Lakewood graduate. "I actually looked down, but my foot was already out of bounds. I was like 'Dang.' I decided to jump (for the pylon) just to make it look close."
Senior cornerback Mistral Raymond said as big as the interception was, that didn't stop the other defensive backs from having fun with Jenkins about barely missing a rare defensive touchdown.
"Definitely. I'm not done either," Raymond said. "We have a long ride home. He hasn't heard the last of me for the night. But I'm proud of the kid. He works hard, he's very intelligent. It showed today."
EMPTY SEATS: Friday's announced attendance was 41,122 at Bank of America Stadium, more than 9,000 less than the next-smallest crowd in the bowl's nine-year history. USF distributed about 4,000 of the 12,500 tickets allotted to the Bulls, with a tiny corner of green amidst a sea of orange and considerable sections of empty blue seats.
THIS AND THAT: Ronnie McKeefery, USF's head strength and conditioning coach and one of the most tenured staffers around the football team having been at USF since 2000, is leaving to take a position as a human performance coordinator with the U.S. Army Special Forces, based out of Fort Campbell in Kentucky. "It was extremely hard to leave," McKeefery said. "I appreciate them fighting their tails off to get that win in my last game." ... Clemson's successful onsides kick recovery was just the third one in the last 31 years for the Tigers, who last had one in 2002. ...