TAMPA — Don't let anyone tell you USF's defensive line didn't receive a big confidence boost from its performance against Florida Atlantic.
The unit, which struggled to get sacks and tackles for loss in its first three games, brought pressure on the Owls in bunches Saturday night, tying a school record with seven sacks from seven players to fuel a 31-3 victory at Raymond James Stadium.
"That feels so good," said senior defensive end David Bedford, who had his sack in the second quarter. "Especially with some of the guys that came through last year, like (former defensive ends George) Selvie and (Jason) Pierre-Paul, to tie the record tonight with guys who maybe don't have the big names like they did is special."
Only two players had sacks this season entering the game, but that list quickly began expanding. The starting defensive line — defensive ends Craig Marshall and Bedford, and defensive tackles Cory Grissom and Terrell McClain — had a sack apiece in the first three quarters.
But USF's leader in pursuing opposing quarterbacks hasn't been a defensive lineman. It has been sophomore safety Jon Lejiste. And he got the Bulls going early in the first quarter, surging past FAU's offensive line and pulling down quarterback Jeff Van Camp for a 6-yard loss.
It was Lejiste's third sack of the season.
Backup defensive linemen Ryne Giddins and Patrick Hampton added sacks.
"Obviously, you can't talk about (Saturday) unless you talk about the loss-yardage plays that our defense came up with," coach Skip Holtz said. "(FAU) had a lot of drives moving forward, and then we would get them way behind the chains with a sack and a loss-yardage play. And I thought that was really the difference."
USF's defense could have had more, too. It hurried Van Camp out of the pocket on many occasions and forced throws that led to two interceptions. Against an offensive line that entered allowing an average of two sacks per game, the Bulls got four in the first half, which surpassed their total in the first three games.
It's an area that defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and Holtz wanted to see improve. The Bulls had 10 sacks in the first four games last season. Now they have matched that total.
"We've been able to get pressure on the quarterbacks we've played, but they've been able to get rid of the ball," Snyder said. "We were fortunate (Saturday) to get that extra step to bring the quarterback down."
For USF's defensive line, Marshall said, the performance was much-needed as the team prepares for its Big East opener Saturday against Syracuse.
"We just wanted to show the Big East conference what we could do," he said. "It gives you a lot of confidence to know that you can put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. We're just ready to get to Big East play."