TAMPA — They pulled out every campaign ploy short of inviting Ken Bone to do Saturday's honorary coin toss.
When USF administrators and marketing types weren't knocking on doors of Greek organizations or other social groups last week, they were offering free parking incentives for the Bulls' game Saturday against Connecticut. Had they been certain they could deliver cloudless, crisp weather, they would have promised that.
Anything to get the student body, a fickle fan base these days, out to Raymond James Stadium to see the Bulls.
Who are bowl eligible today.
The Bulls rallied for a 42-27 victory against UConn before an announced crowd of 30,297.
USF had four turnovers, doubling its previous season high for a game. Yet its streaks of consecutive games with at least 35 points and at least 440 total yards are both alive and well at 11.
"It's a bad thing you have four turnovers, but I guess it's a good thing when you still can score 42 points and win the ball game," coach Willie Taggart said. "But we have to be so much better taking care of the football."
Perhaps this is the latest testament to Taggart's club (6-1, 3-0 American Athletic Conference): It prevails in myriad ways.
Saturday, USF led 14-3 after a pedestrian first half, which featured a couple of brief downpours and a mostly sparkling, pressure-happy defense that ended up with five sacks (three by linebacker Auggie Sanchez) and held a foe to fewer than 100 rushing yards (72) for the first time this season.
"I'm tired of hearing it — that USF can't play defense," said Sanchez, whose team came in ranked last in the league against the run (209.8 ypg). "You know, it ticks us off as a defense. It ticks our guys off. Just because we played one bad game (against FSU), we're viewed as not having that good of a defense. So, yeah, it makes us mad and it gives us a little bit extra motivation each week."
The Huskies (3-4, 1-3) gained 66 yards in 15 plays on their opening drive, ending with a field goal. On their next seven possessions, they totaled 55 yards.
But on USF's first second-half drive, quarterback Quinton Flowers' deep ball toward Marlon Mack was underthrown enough for safety Obi Melifonwu to pick it off. The next play, Huskies quarterback Bryant Shirreffs found tailback Arkeel Newsome over the middle — several steps behind Sanchez — for a 70-yard score.
On the Bulls' next play from scrimmage, senior receiver Rodney Adams took a bubble screen from Flowers (370 total yards, five TDs) and fumbled. Three plays later, Newsome's 4-yard run gave the Huskies a 17-14 lead.
It was an all-too-familiar USF-UConn story line. The previous nine encounters had been decided by eight or fewer points.
USF regained the lead, 21-17, when Flowers capped a 12-play drive with an 8-yard TD run, his third rushing score of the night.
"He's one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country if you ask me," Taggart said. "Some of the things he does out there is like playing a video game."
A chance to salt it away on the next possession ended when Mack (16 carries, 107 yards) fumbled inside the Huskies 5. The cushion finally came on the Bulls' first possession of the fourth quarter, when Flowers found Marquez Valdes-Scantling open for a 26-yard touchdown. A 29-yard scoring catch by Tarpon Springs' Mitchell Wilcox and a 34-yard TD run by Mack iced things.
"We definitely have to clean up the turnovers," Wilcox said. "But it's a perfect example of bending but not breaking."
Just like that, the Bulls had amassed 529 yards.
More significantly, they had given anyone sitting on the attendance fence reason to join the Green — and gold — party.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.