TAMPA — Nine yards. Zero first downs. One dominating half.
After a rough first half in which they allowed Syracuse 221 yards and 13 points — "I don't know what happened," senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said — the Bulls came out in the second Saturday and looked like the No. 11 defense in the nation.
"We made just a couple of slight adjustments," defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. "We have to take the good with the bad, and now, we have to take the bad with the good."
Midway through the third quarter, junior Aaron Harris forced a fumble deep in Syracuse territory that Craig Marshall returned to the 1-yard line. The Bulls scored a play later.
Burnham said the Bulls played their best defensive half of the season and that Harris' forced fumble was a "huge momentum swinger.
"That was a big play," Burnham said. "He really didn't do anything special, he just got a good jump on the ball."
Senior defensive end Jarriett Buie, who had two sacks in the first half, said the defensive line was just trying to get the team hyped up in the second half.
"We were talking about it on the sidelines, and we know that everything starts with the defensive line," he said. "Aaron just went out and made a great play."
But the defense didn't look dominating throughout.
It allowed more than 200 yards to the lowest-ranked offense in the Big East and running back Curtis Brinkley ran for 106 yards and a touchdown before halftime.
Coach Jim Leavitt said the return of several players to the starting lineup might have caused some issues with chemistry early.
"We didn't play great defense in the first half, and I think part of that was just getting our continuity better because we had so many guys play who hadn't practiced much," he said. "I thought we made some really good adjustments."
Senior linebacker Brouce Mompremier, who made his first start since a neck injury Sept. 20 at FIU, said the team just wasn't fired up in the first half.
"We came out a little sluggish," he said. "(Senior safety) Carlton Williams noted that in the locker room, saying that we didn't have the intensity that we normally do. But, we went back in the locker room, worked on a couple of things and got everything squared away."
Even with the Bulls' second-half performance, Mompremier said he still wasn't satisfied.
"We can play better," he said. "We got our first step in the right direction, that's all this is."