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Short-handed USF defense has shining moments

The Bulls intercepted veteran Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder three times.
USF coach Jeff Scott works the sidelines during Saturday's game at Cincinnati.
USF coach Jeff Scott works the sidelines during Saturday's game at Cincinnati. [ AARON DOSTER | AP ]
Published Oct. 3, 2020
Updated Oct. 4, 2020

The foundation of USF’s daunting rebuilding project just might have revealed itself Saturday. In the form of a valiant effort by a badly understaffed defense.

Eight defensive players, including linebackers Dwayne Boyles and Andrew Mims, were among the dozen Bulls listed as unavailable against No. 15 Cincinnati. At least five of the eight are considered significant cogs in the rotation.

Despite their absence, USF intercepted 6-foot-4 junior quarterback Desmond Ridder three times, forced a fumble and held Cincinnati to 328 total yards.

“We knew that (Ridder) is a good player,” said senior defensive back Brock Nichols, who had his second career pick in the second half. “But we also knew that we’re good players too, and that he’s gonna throw the ball and we were gonna get the ball back.”

The unit’s only glaring blemish came on third down, where Cincinnati converted 10 of 17 times. As a result, the Bearcats possessed the ball more than 36 minutes. Coach Jeff Scott acknowledged afterward the Bulls “have got to get bigger somehow.”

“I just felt like offense and special teams, we did not play winning football today,” Scott said. “I felt like the defense the majority of the time, with the limited guys we had out there to play, I felt like they gave us a shot.”

The starting left side of the offensive line — left tackle Donovan Jennings and left guard Demetris “Meech” Harris — also was absent, but veteran center Brad Cecil suited up and made his 2020 debut.

Odds and ends

USF has lost eight in a row to ranked opponents, and is nearing the four-year anniversary of its last win against a top-25 foe (52-45 vs. Navy on Oct. 28, 2016). ... Junior Vincent “Smoke” Davis' 11 tackles were a career high. ... Jordan McCloud’s performance Saturday (12-for-21, 137 yards) was the first 100-yard passing effort by a Bulls quarterback this season. ... Plant High alumnus Leonard Parker’s team-best 51 rushing yards all came on the game’s final drive.

Audible

“Adversity creates change and growth. We need a lot of change and we need a lot of growth in a lot of areas.” — Scott