TAMPA — After more than a year of slogging through the pandemic — and adjusting to a new head coach and losing game after game — USF finally tasted victory Saturday night, 38-17 over Florida A&M.
“It’s been a long year and we’ve been through a lot and the natural thing for a lot of teams in that situation is to split up and divide, but our guys have not done that,” USF coach Jeff Scott said. “This team has stuck together and showed a lot of grit. I’m very proud of that.”
Before the game many folks believed Saturday’s game was a “must win” for the Bulls because they had lost 10 straight and often looked overwhelmed in their losses this season to N.C. State (45-0) and Florida (42-20).
USF still was favored by more than 20 points over the Rattlers, who play in the Football Championship Subdivision (USF is now 25-1 against FCS opponents since 2001 when the Bulls became a Division I-A team).
The Bulls got particularly promising play from true freshman quarterback Timmy McClain, who fared well in his first collegiate start in front of an announced crowd of 29,475 at Raymond James Stadium. McClain completed 12-of-23 for 163 yards and a touchdown while also rushing 14 times for 51 yards in three quarters of play.
“We gave Timmy the first-team snaps all week long,” Scott said. “He did a good job this week. He made some really nice plays but then there were times he looked like a freshman (a lost fumble on the opening drive). … The exciting part about him is that he has a lot of room to grow. His upside looks tremendous.”
This doesn’t mean, however, that McClain is the firm starter moving forward. Freshman Katravis Marsh relieved McClain in the fourth quarter but completed zero passes on three attempts. The starter in the Bulls’ first two games, Cade Fortin, did not play.
Scott repeated that the ultimate goal is to have a full-time starter in place for their American Athletic Conference opener at SMU on Oct. 2.
One thing does appear certain, which is the firepower of receiver/returner Xavier Weaver, who on Saturday returned four punts for 45 yards and caught five passes for 77 yards and a 9-yard touchdown. Weaver came into the game with just four catches and led the nation in average yards per catch at 35.25, a stat lost on him.
“I had no idea about leading the nation,” Weaver said. “I just focus on executing. That’s it.”
Also in the mix Saturday night were a host of running backs — including Brian Battie, Jaren Mangham (transfer from Colorado), Kelley Joiner and Darrian Felix (transfer from Oregon) — who combined for 46 rushes for 245 yards. Battie led all backs with 10 carries for 110 yards while Mangham rushed seven times for 27 yards and three touchdowns on carries of 2, 4 and 9 yards, giving him five this season after he scored two last week against Florida.
On the defensive side, there were several bright lights in the first half, but also some concern for a group that doesn’t have a lot of depth. In the first quarter, for instance, USF allowed FAMU only 52 yards, but by game’s end, the Rattlers had accrued 380.
“We need to address (the depth) issue,” Scott said. “We need some more guys to step up.”
Overall, however, Saturday felt good for the Bulls (1-2).
“We have 24 hours to celebrate this and then we have to get back to work,” Scott said. “I think we’re trending up. We have to keep it going.”
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