Football practice report (Dec. 4)
TAMPA -- Thanks in part to a unique motivational ploy from its coordinator, USF's defense has spent the final stretch of the season playing out of its mind instead of playing out the string.
With tensions mounting and bowl hopes dwindling in early November, veteran coordinator Chuck Bresnahan challenged his group to finish the last four games among the nation's top 10 in total defense.
"We reached a point where there was some frustration building in, and when you let that roll downhill like a cancer -- I hate to use that word -- it can really, really tear a team apart and a unit apart," Bresnahan said. "So we tried to give them something to focus on."
Since then, the Bulls have allowed an average of 265.7 yards in three games, which would rank third nationally -- behind only Michigan State and Louisville -- if it held up over the course of the season.
"We've always had something to play for," senior DT Luke Sager said, "but then having this as one of our goals definitely helped us come out to practice and come to the games and play harder."
In USF's last four contests, opposings offenses have been held to at least 99 yards below their season average. The last two foes -- SMU and UCF -- scored 16 and 12.8 points fewer than their season average coming in, respectively.
"It's really a seniors' challenge and everybody's bought into it, wants to send 'em out the right way," Bresnahan said. "And the best way to do it is to worry about something you can control."
ROOKIES DRAW RAVES: Bresnahan lauded the play of the shorthanded secondary, which featured four freshmen, in Friday's 23-20 loss at UCF. Two senior starters -- Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins -- were suspended before kickoff and have since been dismissed.
UCF junior QB Blake Bortles threw two picks -- tying his season high -- and had his fourth-lowest passing yardage total (219) of the season. Nearly one-fourth of the total came on his 52-yard TD strike to Breshad Perriman late in the fourth quarter.
"It's a collective effort," Bresnahan said. "And I think they'd be the first one to tell you that it's everybody else working around them and doing their job and not trying to do too much that allows them to go back and just relax and play."
AUDIBLE: "I'm just gonna speak from the heart and let it flow." -- senior DE Ryne Giddins, on what he'll say if the seniors are allowed to give a final address to the team