CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Much of the talk coming into Friday's Meineke Car Care Bowl was about Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers. But USF's line and a game plan heavy on screens and short, quick passes helped neutralize the All-American during a 31-26 victory.
"It's the same thing that happened at Florida, at Miami and several times during the year: Too many people undersell these kids," Bulls offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler said. "That's a pretty good offensive line.
"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 is projected to go high in the draft after leading Division I-A with 151/2 sacks and winning the Nagurski Trophy as the nation's top defensive player. But he didn't get a sack for just the third time this season and was limited to a single tackle-for-loss after entering with 25.
The line — senior Ts Jamar Bass and Jake Sims, senior C Sampson Genus and junior Gs Chaz Hine and Jeremiah Warren — had confidence from three good weeks of preparation, Sims said.
"It's exciting," Sims said. "I hope he does well (in the NFL), gives me a story to tell. I'm glad he didn't do too well against me."
STEPPING OUT EARLY: Redshirt freshman S JaQuez Jenkins intercepted a pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. His 48-yard return was the longest in the bowl's history. But he lost track of where he was and stepped out at the 5.
"I was trying to direct traffic, and when I did, I lost awareness on the field," said Jenkins, a graduate of Lakewood High. "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 CB Mistral Raymond said as big as the interception was — setting up a touchdown that put USF up 31-13 — that didn't stop fellow defensive backs from giving Jenkins grief.
"We have a long ride home," Raymond said. "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 (Friday)."
EMPTY SEATS: The announced attendance at Bank of America Stadium was 41,122, about 9,000 less than the previous smallest crowd in the bowl's nine-year history. USF distributed about 4,000 of its 12,500 tickets with a tiny corner of green amid a sea of orange and considerable sections of empty blue seats. Clemson distributed all 12,500 of its tickets but didn't ask for more.
A nice goodbye: Strength and conditioning coach Ronnie McKeefery, who has been at USF since 2000, is leaving to become 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."
THIS AND THAT: Clemson's successful onside kick late was just its third in the past 31 seasons and first since 2002. … USF's top five tacklers were underclassmen, including nine by redshirt freshman LB DeDe Lattimore and six by freshman S Mark Joyce.
Times correspondent Kerry Klecic contributed to this report.