TAMPA — After No. 10 Alabama defeated USF 17-3 in a hard-fought, often thrilling battle Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, someone said to Bulls coach Alex Golesh that his team made a “valiant effort.”
In the post-game news conference, Golesh wanted to make something perfectly clear:
“Valiant efforts are for losers,” he said. “Moral victories are for losers. Winners win. So there are no moral victories. … You can say that’s an SEC team. You can say the No. 10 team in the country. You can say whatever you want. They’re on our schedule. They are playing us at home. We’ve got to go win football games. I’ll own it. We weren’t as good as we had to be tonight to win.”
But the Bulls made things interesting.
With six minutes, 54 seconds left in the third quarter, USF (1-2) and Alabama (2-1) were tied 3-all, and to that point the Bulls had held the ’Bama offense to 106 total yards.
But that’s when the Crimson Tide took over at their own 16-yard line and started rolling. Six plays and 84 yards later they were in the end zone when Roydell Williams plowed ahead from the 1-yard line.
Trailing 10-3, USF still had a couple of opportunities to pull off what would have been a monumental upset (oddsmakers had the Bulls as 33-point underdogs).
Two plays down the stretch proved pivotal.
The first came with 1:40 left in the third quarter on a fourth and 2 at the Alabama 21-yard line. Golesh decided to go for it. USF quarterback Byrum Brown rushed off right tackle and was stuffed.
Golesh said he isn’t second-guessing that decision: “We’ve got to go score. We’ve got to get a spark there. I don’t regret that at all. You put it in Byrum Brown’s hands and I’m going to keep putting it in Byrum Brown’s hands.”
The second crucial play came with 6:29 left in the game. On a first and 10 at the Alabama 41-yard line, Golesh decided to go for a long pass to the end zone. Brown threw it to the corner but the receiver broke toward the middle. Alabama’s Malachi Moore intercepted the pass.
Golesh said if he could take a call back, “that would be it.”
“I was trying to force something vertical,” Golesh said. “I’m trying to get something to get Byrum to set his feet and let it go. But that one I do wish I could have back, to be honest with you.
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“Because we were moving it. We were chunking down the field on that drive. That was a critical drive in the game for us to make it 10-10 and I don’t know if I got impatient as much as I saw an opportunity. … In every imaginable way that’s my fault, and I told Byrum that and I told (the receiver) Michael Brown-Stephens that.”
After that, Alabama drove 80 yards for its final score, another 1-yard touchdown dive, this time from quarterback Ty Simpson with 33 seconds remaining.
Was USF disappointed? Yes. Despondent? No.
There were plenty of bright lights for USF to appreciate, including: Nickel back Daquan Evans, who had three sacks and eight tackles; linebacker Jhalyn Shuler, who led all players with 11 tackles; receiver Sean Atkins (six catches, 42 yards); and running Nay’Quan Wright, who rushed 15 times for 62 yards and ignited the entire stadium with an early bull-dozing run of an Alabama defender.
“When I saw that (Wright plow-driving run) I said, ‘Ooooh,’ and it really got me juiced,” Brown said. “It got the whole stadium filled with energy. It was a statement.”
In the end, Brown, a redshirt freshman, also showed why there is reason for hope. Against an overall bigger, faster, stronger Alabama defense, Brown finished with 14 completions in 28 attempts for 87 yards while rushing 23 times for 92 yards.
Another reason for optimism came from the overall play of the defense, which collected five sacks (the Bulls had 14 total last season) while holding Alabama to 310 total yards.
Alabama’s quarterbacks, Tyler Buchner and Ty Simpson, finished just 10-of-23 for 107 yards.
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