GAINESVILLE — After two weeks of looking severely suspect and vulnerable, USF manned up, marched into The Swamp on Saturday night and scared the living daylights out of No. 18 Florida.
USF lost the game 31-28 — a high fumbled snap on one play, then a botched hold on a potential tying 48-yard field goal in the final seconds playing pivotal roles — but the Bulls still left with things to be encouraged about.
There was, perhaps most notably, a show of grit after trailing 24-13 at halftime amid the torrent of noise from the announced crowd of 88,496 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“We came in here believing we could win this game, and we never backed down in this incredibly tough environment, and I couldn’t be more proud of our effort,” an emotional USF coach Jeff Scott said. “In my three years I believe that was the first time we played at the level we’re capable of playing. It hurts a lot to not win, and it’s going to hurt for 24 hours, but we should get better from this.”
How about the Bulls’ entire offensive line — starting with Donovan Jennings, Demetris Harris, Brad Cecil, Dustyn Hall and Demontrey Jacobs — who relentlessly shoved open holes in the Gators’ huge defensive front.
Bulls running backs shot through the holes to rush 46 times for 305 yards, with running back Brian Battie and quarterback Gerry Bohanon rushing for 152 and 103, respectively.
“It was special to see (the offensive line) perform that way against a really talented defensive front,” Scott said. “You watch (the Gators’) first two games against Utah and Kentucky, and they look really good. A lot of those guys in that defense are going to play in the NFL and man, our guys, they really worked their tails off and executed that game plan up front.”
On USF’s defensive side, which displayed glaring weaknesses in the first two weeks in giving up a total of 993 yards, there were sparks of life, most notably in the second half when the Bulls (1-2) got two three-and-outs and two interceptions on consecutive possessions.
There also was the handling of much-heralded Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson, who completed just 10 of 18 passes for 112 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions.
“(Richardson) was a tough challenge and, you know, he played extremely well against (No. 7) Utah (in a 29-26 victory in Week 1), but I felt like we often had (the Gators offense) on their heels,” Scott said. “We often executed very well against them.”
As for Bohanon, he showed plenty of cool in the hostile environment but still looked a little off in the passing game, missing several open receivers, ultimately finishing with 12 completions on 28 attempts for 116 yards and two interceptions, one returned for a pick-6.
“We know we have to clean some things up in the passing game,” Scott said. “I feel confident we will do that.”
Ultimately, however, Scott said his team “did not win the game,” and the loss still leaves the Bulls’ third-year coach with only one victory over a Division I-A opponent. It also extends USF’s losing streak against top-25 ranked opponents to 12 games, the last victory coming against Navy, 52-45, in 2016.
“We will get there,” Bohanon said. “We proved (Saturday) that we believe. We fell short, but we know what we need to do. (Saturday), we showed what we are capable of doing. We showed (Saturday) that we can play with anybody. We know we can. We know it.”
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