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What you may have missed from USF-East Carolina

East Carolina Pirates wide receiver Zay Jones (7) runs the ball for a first down in the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, October 8, 2016. (Octavio Jones, Times)
East Carolina Pirates wide receiver Zay Jones (7) runs the ball for a first down in the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, October 8, 2016. (Octavio Jones, Times)
Published Oct. 8, 2016

TAMPA — As too-close-for-comfort as things might have been at times, with Saturday's 38-22 homecoming victory over East Carolina, USF improved to 5-1 for the first time since 2009.

But that wasn't the only accomplishment nearly seven years in the making for the Bulls. They also snapped a drought of eight consecutive defeats in noon or pre-noon kickoffs at Raymond James Stadium, a mark that stretched back two coaching eras.

The most recent one before Saturday? A 34-22 triumph over Louisville on Nov. 21, 2009, which evolved into, arguably, the darkest day in program history.

During halftime that afternoon, then-USF coach Jim Leavitt allegedly grabbed walk-on Joel Miller by the throat inside the locker room and slapped him in the face.

Less than two months later, Leavitt's 13-year tenure ended when the school fired him for the incident after an investigation.

Solid start

Redshirt freshman TE Mitchell Wilcox had already made nice strides this season, with catches for 21 and 52 yards against Division I-AA Towson and Florida State, respectively. But the former Tarpon Springs High standout had his most productive grab against ECU in his first career start.

Thrust into the lineup in place of sophomore Kano Dillon, who was sidelined with an ankle injury, Wilcox hauled in a 41-yard pass from Quinton Flowers late in the second quarter. That set up a touchdown two plays later on an 11-yard connection from Flowers to D'Ernest Johnson.

Wilcox also fielded four kickoffs as ECU did its best to avoid booting it deep to speedy returners Rodney Adams and Johnson.

"To be the only tight end that played in that ballgame, I thought he played well," USF coach Willie Taggart said. "I thought he had some bone-headed mistakes, some penalties in there we just can't have. But overall, I think Mitchell did a great job for us."

Zay's day

USF coach Willie Taggart knew it was going to be a challenge to stop Pirates WR Zay Jones. On Tuesday, Taggart even called him, "One of the best receivers I've ever seen in this conference in a while."

But Jones still gashed the Bulls for 18 receptions — many on horizontal throws — for 145 yards, the most catches ever allowed by a USF defense.

Liberty's Josh Stofle caught 15 against the Bulls in 2001.

Throwback time

In conjunction with the program's 20th anniversary, USF honored its inaugural 1997 team with an onfield ceremony between the first and second quarters. Among the 22 former players attending were USF's first QB, Chad Barnhardt, and former team captain, OL Ivan Alicot.

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