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USF journal: Strong praises defensive resilience vs. Jackets

OCTAVIO JONES | Times Georgia Tech running back KirVonte Benson (30) is tackled by USF linebacker Nico Sawtelle (54) during the first half of the game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, September 8, 2018.
Monday 10 September 2018 16.12

He remained mostly oblivious to the stats when assessing his defense's effort Saturday against Georgia Tech.

The way Charlie Strong saw it, the Bulls survived the cut, and that's all that mattered.

For all the Yellow Jackets' triple-option proficiency Saturday (419 rushing yards), the Bulls didn't succumb mentally to Tech's trademark cut-blocking. The result was a 49-38 triumph and some unheralded defensive performances.

Related: USF's Terrence Horne earns conference, national honors

"I think (CB) Mazzi (Wilkins) told me today, 'Coach, I got cut only one time. Last week (at practice) you cut us every snap,'" Strong recalled Monday. "I said, 'Yeah, I just figured that's what option teams do, they're gonna cut you.' But it's all about preparation and how we prepare."

Specifically, Strong said LB Khalid McGee (nine tackles) played an "unbelievable" game, and DT Kevin Kegler (four tackles, one sack) "played the game of his life" despite his coach's skepticism of how he'd handle the consistent cut blocks.

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"I never would've expected that from him," Strong said.

"I told him in practice, 'I'll bet you'll play five plays, then you'll be done for the rest of the day.' He said, 'You're still waiting for me to come out, huh?' It didn't happen."

Additionally, Strong named MLB Nico Sawtelle (five tackles, fumble recovery, interception) and CB Ronnie Hoggins (nine tackles, interception) his defensive players of the week. Hoggins appeared to get shaken up on a third-quarter tackle, but returned a few plays later.

"I think he was only out three snaps…and he was back in the game," Strong said. "We were getting ready to go on the field on defense and he comes running up in the huddle like, 'Coach, I'm ready to go.' I said, 'I thought you were out.' He said, 'No, no. I wanna go, Coach.' … It's just the way this team is."

We had an amazing team victory on Saturday, all of our players showed incredible resilience and dedication to their team, and now we recognize those who went the extra mile for the Bulls. #Bullstrong ���� pic.twitter.com/z1c4Wox8JV

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— Charlie Strong (@CoachStrong_USF) September 10, 2018

UNDER THE LIGHTS: The American Athletic Conference announced Monday the Bulls' Sept. 22 home game against East Carolina will kick off at 8 p.m., and broadcast live on ESPNews. It will be the Bulls' first true Saturday night home contest (kickoff at 7 p.m. or later) since their 33-3 win against Cincinnati last October.

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ODDS AND ENDS: Strong said RB Duran Bell, who ran 12 times for 69 yards and a TD Saturday, suffered an ankle injury and is day to day. "We're gonna work him this week and try to get him ready (for Illinois)," Strong said. … In addition to making the American Athletic Conference weekly honor roll for the second consecutive week, QB Blake Barnett (293 total yards, four TDs Saturday) was among the Manning Award's "Stars of the Week." … After two weeks, senior Tyre McCants leads the AAC in receptions per game (8.0).

AUDIBLE: "This is one of those games I'd call a trap game, just because you can't let last week's performance get in the way of your preparation for this week." — Strong on Saturday's game vs. Illinois in Chicago

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