EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — The forestal Connecticut countryside, bursting with a kaleidoscope of autumnal red and gold hues, stood in glaring contrast to the eyesore unfolding Saturday on Rentschler Field.
Initially, USF was unsightly on an otherwise blissful New England afternoon. The Bulls could neither stop the worst rushing offense in Division I-A nor buy a first down. After three quarters, they had more punts (eight) than completions (five).
Then the defense started clamping down and the passing game started clicking. Today, they're looking absolutely resplendent in the American Athletic Conference standings.
Marvin Kloss' 44-yard go-ahead field goal into a brisk wind with 4:03 to play capped a 71/2-minute drive in a 13-10 victory against winless Connecticut. USF (2-4, 2-0) enters its bye week riding its first two-game win streak since September 2012.
"Who would've thought when we were 0-4 that we'd turn it around?" USF coach Willie Taggart asked rhetorically.
"I know some didn't even think we could win a game. But I think it's great that our guys are just staying together and playing for each other. I think that's what you're all seeing right now."
Even if it was tough watching it at times. Both Bulls wins have come without an offensive touchdown.
"From an offensive perspective, it wasn't pretty," said junior Andre Davis, who had a 12-yard catch on a third-and-8 curl route on the winning drive. "But we made it happen somehow, some way."
Actually, there were myriad ways.
Gashed by UConn's anemic rushing game, 45.8 yards per game coming in, for 162 in the first half, USF scrapped its three down-linemen scheme, put more heat up front and held the Huskies (0-5, 0-1) to 45 after halftime.
Kloss, a junior who has converted his past nine field goals, remained his steely self despite struggling with his footing early on. Sophomore Mattias Ciabatti, punting out of his own end zone three times in the second half, finished with a 44.3-yard average.
The defense managed a touchdown, a 44-yard Aaron Lynch fumble return, for the third consecutive game, and tight end Mike McFarland blocked a field goal for the second game in a row.
Even the committee of tailbacks performed solidly (122 yards) in the absence of top rusher Marcus Shaw (leg). But the decisive factor might have been the moxie of USF's maligned quarterback.
Senior Bobby Eveld, pressed into starting duty by Steven Bench's knee injury, was 3-for-4 for 38 yards on the winning drive. Two completions came on third down.
Entering that possession, Eveld had gone 5-for-24 for 68 yards and two sacks.
"I thought the first half, Bobby was rushing a lot of things. I think he was looking at the rush rather than looking down the field," said Taggart, who said he never considered pulling Eveld.
"At halftime, we talked about it, and he stayed in there a couple of times and got some nice throws in there to keep the drive going. He showed when we protect for him, he can throw the football."
And the Bulls showed what they can do with a little grit and confidence.
Style points be darned.
"Today might not have been pretty from an offensive standpoint," Eveld said. "But I tell you what: Our defense did a great job keeping us in that ball game.
"I think as long as we keep playing as a team like we are now, we're going to be rolling."
Joey Knight can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Bulls.