In only his second collegiate start Saturday night, true USF freshman quarterback Timmy McClain stepped into the screaming, packed confines of Lavell Edwards Stadium and emerged as the firm Bulls starter moving forward.
Less than a year from leading Sanford Seminole High to the Class 8A state title, McClain gave No. 15 BYU fits, often making something out of nothing with his feet and firing one pinpoint completion after another.
BYU did win, 35-27, but McClain made one of the biggest impressions, guiding his team on scoring drives of 75, 54 and 94 yards in the second half as the Bulls (1-3) outscored the Cougars 21-7.
The 94-yard drive was particularly impressive, totaling 19 plays and nine minutes, five seconds, ending with a fourth-down plunge for a touchdown by running back Jaren Mangham. McClain completed 4 of 5 passes for 48 yards on the drive, but more importantly the score cut the gap to a touchdown with 5:41 remaining.
BYU (4-0) proceeded to run out the clock after recovering the Bulls’ onside kick attempt, but coach Jeff Scott said there was plenty of positives to draw from the experience in Provo, Utah, especially regarding his quarterback.
“I am so proud of Timmy McClain, as a true freshman in this environment,” Scott said. “When it was fourth and 1 and it was so loud and he handled that. That’s as loud a situation as I’ve ever been in, as loud as LSU, Clemson, anywhere. It doesn’t get any louder and we pushed through it and scored. We also did not have one false start offensively. Other teams who have played here and had a lot of issues with the noise.
“Timmy really managed it well. To be able to execute, get the calls, get the cadence, it was encouraging. … I feel comfortable right now with Timmy.”
Scott has said all season that he wanted to have his starting quarterback in place heading into the conference schedule, which begins Saturday at SMU (4-0).
McClain, who began the season in a battle with several quarterbacks but mainly with Cade Fortin (who started the first two games), was the first USF quarterback this season to play an entire game, finishing 17 of 24 passing for 186 yards with no interceptions while also rushing for 55 yards.
“I was really confident about the game plan,” McClain said. “I did relax more as the game went on. Before every play I took a deep breath and then just executed the play.”
USF again made things tough with a terribly slow start, a scenario played out in losses to North Carolina State (trailed 24-0 at the half) and Florida (trailed 35-3 at the half).
Against the Cougars, the Bulls found themselves trailing 21-0 after the first quarter and 28-6 at the half.
During the intermission, Mangham — who had a career-high 26 carries for 86 yards and two touchdowns (giving him seven on the season) — said the mentality was “to not quit.”
“We played a sloppy first half, and we have started off slow in a lot of our games,” Mangham said. “We can’t dig ourselves in holes like that. I can’t wait to get back to the drawing board and put everything together to play a complete game.”
Scott did address his team’s struggles on defense, which has been severely challenged with injuries, especially in the secondary where three solid contributors did not play against BYU. The lack of experience was evident early as quarterback Baylor Romney completed his first pass for 49 yards and his third for 55. Romney, a backup to the injured Jaren Hall, finished 20-of-25 for 305 yards and three touchdowns.
“Ultimately we simply have to be more sound with what we’re doing,” Scott said. “The yards (BYU) gained after contact is probably the story for us defensively. They made the throws when they had the opportunities. You have to give them credit.”
• • •