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In wake of Wisconsin loss, USF needs its veteran presence more than ever

Bulls seniors say they won’t allow Friday’s 49-0 loss to define them.
USF Charlie Strong is seen on the sidelines during the second quarter against Wisconsin on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
USF Charlie Strong is seen on the sidelines during the second quarter against Wisconsin on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [ ALLIE GOULDING | Times ]
Published Aug. 31, 2019|Updated Sep. 1, 2019

TAMPA ― Maybe, just maybe, a positive surfaced in the postmortem. Perhaps a sliver of hope can be salvaged for 2019 when considering the voices that spoke for USF in the immediate wake of Friday’s embarrassment against Wisconsin.

Each voice was at least 22, and far removed from its respective first rodeo: quarterback Blake Barnett, left tackle Billy Atterbury, defensive end Kirk Livingstone, middle linebacker Patrick Macon.

All are seniors, the one significant resource USF possesses in rich supply.

MORE USF: Joey Knight’s takeaways from USF-Wisconsin

A program with no indoor facility (which wreaked havoc on at least three game-week practices), no nutritionist (which might have come in handy against a Big Ten behemoth) and no football-only training room at least has veteran rudders to try and steer it back on course.

“You try and keep everyone’s head up, including myself,” Atterbury said shortly after the Bulls’ 49-0 loss to No. 19 Wisconsin, only the program’s fourth shutout loss in its 22-plus seasons.

“There were a lot of things I felt like we all didn’t do collectively. ... I think that you have to just go in and watch the film and make sure everything you did wrong this week gets corrected next week.”

Such sentiments were echoed throughout the Raymond James Stadium interview room late Friday night. Truth be told, they sounded much like the sound bites that surfaced following most of USF’s six consecutive defeats to end 2018.

So why should fans lend more credence to them now? Because by all accounts, the players delivering them ― all of whom have played a ton of college football ― generally command more respect in the locker room.

Moreover, coach Charlie Strong has suggested this team is better equipped to deal with adversity.

“It really will be a character check for us in the next few weeks, but I really do think this team has (character),” said Strong, who had been fired on social media by halftime Friday, but in reality isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

“Even with the way we were getting beat, it was never where a guy was pointing fingers or a guy is like, ‘C’mon offense, let’s get going,’ or 'C’mon defense, stop ‘em.’ There was none of that.”

Which isn’t to suggest changes aren’t forthcoming.

MORE USF: Add up USF’s six consecutive losses last year and they still weren’t as bad as this stinker

Look for the Bulls staff to possibly re-assess its offensive line after Barnett was steadily harassed (and sacked three times) Friday.

Look for a fifth defensive transfer, end Ryan Thaxton (two tackles), to get significantly more snaps in short order. Look for slot receiver Johnny Ford, whom the USF staff learned only shortly before kickoff would be unavailable, to return for next week’s game at Georgia Tech and provide a significant offensive spark.

“I think the offense, we didn’t play well, but I still think it’s there,” Strong said.

More importantly, so do the elder statesmen.

“The team that played out there (Friday night) is not the team that we are,” Barnett said.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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