TAMPA — USF trailed Division I-AA Stony Brook at halftime Saturday, and despite running off the field to a chorus of boos, the Bulls were, in the words of receiver Tyre McCants, calm and cool as they gathered in the locker room.
"Everybody in the room said we know we're playing bad right now. We know we can pick it up," McCants said.
Any changes needed against the stubborn Seawolves had more to with attitude than game planning.
"(We had to) get back to playing Bull football," McCants said. "Get back to being us. Get back to being energetic, all that."
And they did.
No. 19 USF left Raymond James Stadium with a 31-17 victory that wasn't secured until Mazzi Wilkins' interception at the Stony Brook 25-yard line with 2:38 to play in the game. From there, the Bulls tacked on an insurance touchdown to extend their run of games with at least 30 points scored to 19 straight, the longest streak of its kind in the nation.
Overall, it was a win for the Bulls (2-0) and nothing more.
"I thought that today we were awful," coach Charlie Strong said.
The Bulls — who didn't wake up (Strong's words) until the second quarter of their season-opening 42-22 win at San Jose State — didn't wake up Saturday until the fourth quarter.
"We've played two games, and we have yet to play four quarters," Strong said.
His team has too much talent to play this sloppily.
Maybe it is the pressure of being ranked in the top 20 or the lofty expectations surrounding the program. Maybe the Bulls got caught playing down to their opponents during the first two weeks of the season.
"We can't play like we did the first two weeks," Strong said.
He said he does not expect quarterback Quinton Flowers to produce a touchdown drive every time the Bulls have the ball, but Strong did not expect to see this on the scoreboard at halftime:
Stony Brook 10
"We knew (Stony Brook was) going to come in and play as hard as they could, and that's what they did," McCants said. "Props to them. They're a good football team. They're a physical football team."
Stony Brook, playing its season opener, had a simple game plan: Make Strong and his staff coach into the fourth quarter.
"In the fourth quarter, I looked up, and it was 17-17, and they were coaching," Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore said. "I think that's certainly something we played for, but we play for a win also, and we didn't get the win. At the end of the day, we didn't succeed in our total goal."
There is something else. Priore knew it would be understandable for the Bulls to not take his team all that seriously.
"If you play the game physical and don't try to froufrou it, play it physical, you always have a chance to make them wake up," Priore said. "I think we played as physical, and they woke up. Wouldn't you say so? They got woken up."
It took four quarters.
"That's something that we learned today," McCants said. "No matter who it is, no matter where we are, we just got to play our game. Play football and be physical and tough."
It took a 65-yard touchdown pass from Flowers to McCants with 11:23 to play to snap a 17-17 tie, Wilkins' interception and a 14-yard touchdown run by Darius Tice for the Bulls to avoid a monumental upset.
"You're going to have ups and downs," Flowers said. "You're going to have roller-coaster rides. It's about staying together as a team, and that's what we did, and that's why we came away with the W."