TAMPA — Like a well-timed gadget play, Alex Golesh’s dry sense of humor manifests itself on occasion, and usually hits big.
Consider the USF coach’s recent indictment of a Bulls post-touchdown celebration penalty in the second half of last weekend’s 42-29 victory against Rice. Employing a stern, steady tone, Golesh called the actions leading to the flag “complete nonsense” before delivering a quip that elicited chuckles.
“Act like you’ve been there before,” Golesh said. “Turns out, for many of us, we haven’t been there before.”
That zing at the program’s previous futility also highlights a current trend the Bulls are trying to quash. Percolating emotions, a frenetic offensive pace and an improvisational quarterback have conspired to make USF one of the nation’s most-penalized teams. It’s a concern that could be magnified Saturday, as the Bulls (2-2, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) face their polar opposite on the penalty spectrum.
Navy, annually one of the nation’s least-flagged teams, has been whistled for the third-fewest penalty yards (23.7) in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Bulls’ 39 penalties are third most in the country, and they rank 126th in penalty yards per game (85.8).
“We’ve gotten better every single week from a penalty standpoint,” said Golesh, whose team committed 25 of its 39 infractions in the season’s first two games. “You know, that’s been the emphasis, is to get better and better and better.”
Some of those flags seemed inevitable as the Bulls — who have run the third-most offensive plays in the country (320) — transitioned to Golesh’s caffeinated offense. Nine of the flags have been false starts. Eleven have been holding whistles, perhaps a byproduct of linemen being forced to hold blocks as quarterback Byrum Brown periodically shifts and scrambles in the backfield.
And some others (five unsportsmanlike-conduct flags) have been borne of pure overzealousness and heat-of-the-moment reflex.
“We’re going to clean up those penalties, because that’s not who we are,” Brown said.
“I think in a lot of ways, there’s so much emotion, because so many firsts are happening,” added Golesh, whose program is seeking back-to-back league triumphs for the first time since October 2018.
“And I think when it’s your first anything, you don’t really know how to handle it. That’s our growth as a program, that’s our growth as a team. I imagine and I believe that will continue to grow because we’re coaching it as hard as anything.”
Navy (1-2, 0-1) has complemented its discipline with diversity under first-year coach Brian Newberry, the Midshipmen defensive coordinator the previous four seasons. While elements of the triple option remain profound in Navy’s offense, it has incorporated more of a passing element, with senior quarterback Tai Lavatai often working out of the shotgun.
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While rushing for 223.3 yards per game (10th nationally), the Midshipmen have averaged nearly 150 passing yards their last two games.
“It certainly seems like they’ve added more each and every single week,” Golesh said.
“I’m sure there’s going to be some more wrinkles there, but they’ve certainly expanded offensively, playing in the (shotgun) more, letting the quarterback drop back a little bit more, a little more play-action stuff.”
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
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