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USF seeking another Tyre McCants moment in ‘War on I-4’

Since providing USF with an early spark last year against UCF, receiver Tyre McCants' productivity has surged.
USF slot receiver Tyre McCants (8) makes the game-winning touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter of the 2017 Birmingham Bowl against Texas Tech at Legion Field. [Times files]
USF slot receiver Tyre McCants (8) makes the game-winning touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter of the 2017 Birmingham Bowl against Texas Tech at Legion Field. [Times files]
Published Nov. 22, 2018

TAMPA — The simple swing route had Tyre McCants' name on it. It called for the burly veteran to line up in the slot, with a pair of tight ends flexed out wide.

"Alpha Red Horizontal," McCants said.

But forever vertical in USF lore.

In a game rife with lasting images, among the most indelible from the 2017 USF-UCF classic is McCants' personalized pattern, on the third play from scrimmage.

With the Bulls at midfield, he caught a Quinton Flowers pass, got sprung by textbook blocks from Kano Dillon and Mitch Wilcox on the perimeter, and raced 47 yards down the right sideline. Clinging helplessly to his jersey the last 15 yards was UCF 230-pound linebacker Chequan Burkett, whom McCants dragged into the end zone.

"That was definitely a tone-setter," Bulls cornerback Mazzi Wilkins said.

Not only for that breathtaking game, but for the back end of McCants' college career.

As if on cue, that viral touchdown launched the 240-pound Niceville native's productivity into a new stratosphere. McCants, who entered that game with 53 career receptions, had nine that afternoon, for a USF-record 227 yards.

"I never seen a receiver that big who can both catch and run," Knights junior Dredrick Snelson said. "Great receiver."

He added six more catches — including the game-winning 26-yard touchdown — in the Birmingham Bowl, and enters Friday's "War on I-4" rematch with a team-best 56 receptions (for 604 yards) this season.

"There's not a lot of guys like him that have his kind of size on the perimeter and can move," Knights middle linebacker Pat Jasinski said.

"We're gonna have to tackle really well on the outside. They're really good at keeping their feet going and breaking tackles and getting yards after contact."

A fifth-year senior, McCants had brandished his blend of girth and fleetness (he ran the 40 in 4.5 seconds in high school) only in teasing spurts before that 47-yard run to YouTube immortality. After redshirting (and undergoing knee surgery) in 2014, he totaled only 32 catches over the next two seasons.

But he said that seismic swing pass seemed to reaffirm the Bulls' trust in him. "And since that play, I'm just trying to do everything I can to help out," he said.

He can help out in a major way this afternoon with another early splash.

Though USF ultimately fell to the Knights 49-42 in last year's game, McCants' score seemed to give the Bulls a spontaneous spark — not to mention shot of confidence — against their unbeaten rival.

"That showed that that side of the ball really wanted it," Hoggins said.

"If your guys show that they want it, that does nothing but bring guys along on the other side of the ball and special teams to say they want it as well. That play was huge in that game and it propelled us forward."

Any chance at snapping UCF's 23-game win streak likely hinges on USF seizing early momentum again. The Bulls (7-4, 3-4) have been outscored 83-59 in the first quarter against Division I-A competition this season. Allowing the Knights' turbo-charged offense to land some early blows with nary a counterpunch could be devastating.

"When you get in a rival game and you're playing against a really good opponent, something's got to go your way early to get you in the game," Bulls coach Charlie Strong said.

"This is one of those games where you can't allow them to jump out with a big lead, because then all of the sudden, doubts start creeping in your mind and you can't allow that to happen."

Now more than ever, the Bulls need something vertical, something viral. Time to dial up Alpha Red Historic.

"It did set a tone," Wilkins said, "and we're looking at setting one this year."

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

Tyre takes off
Since achieving YouTube immortality by dragging a UCF defender into the end zone last season, Bulls slot receiver Tyre McCants' production has skyrocketed:

McCants before viral play…
Games: 36
Receptions: 53
Yards: 919
TDs: 10

Since the play…
Games: 13
Receptions: 70
Yards: 872
TDs: 5

Up next
USF vs. No. 8 UCF, Raymond James Stadium, 4:15 Friday
TV/radio: ESPN; 820-AM, 98.3-FM


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