Make us your home page
Instagram

Re-shuffled USF o-line draws raves in debut

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers runs behind tight end Kano Dillon (85) and right guard Billy Atterbury (78) during Friday's victory against Illinois.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers runs behind tight end Kano Dillon (85) and right guard Billy Atterbury (78) during Friday's victory against Illinois.

After months of mixing and matching, followed by a couple of games of trial and error, the Bulls finally appear to have found a solid starting five up front.

After two games at right guard, the Bulls slid senior Cameron Ruff back to center -- where he started all 13 games last season -- and plugged in redshirt sophomore Billy Atterbury at guard. The result: 376 rushing yards and nine explosive plays (20-plus yards) in a 47-23 romp of Illinois.

USF logged nine or more explosive plays only twice last season (Memphis, UCF).

"The o-line performed extremely well," said senior RB Darius Tice, who finished with 105 yards on only 12 carries. "Many times I got the ball and wasn't getting touched 'til way down the field. Sometimes I'm running the ball and they're next to me, and I'm 20 yards down the field. ... They did a great job."

The only glaring hiccups were some early penalties, with Atterbury getting whistled twice (for holding and a false start) in a three-play span in the first half. QB Quinton Flowers was sacked twice, but his 25 official carries were more than double any other player on the field.

"I feel like we did more finishing on blocks, but we still can finish more," senior LG Jeremi Hall said. "I just feel like we out-conditioned them really. We ran a lot of plays (98) and we just kept going. And none of us were really tired, we were just having fun."

INJURY UPDATE: WR Deangelo Antoine, who had a career-best four catches against Illinois, suited up Tuesday but didn't practice, Coach Charlie Strong said. No other player appeared sidelined (i.e. on crutches, in a walking boot, etc.) during the session open to reporters.

"(Antoine) kind of ran around, just don't know where we are right now," Strong said. W"e've still got two days before we make that decision on whether he's gonna play or not."

ODDS AND ENDS: Former Buccaneers Booger McFarland and Joey Galloway will share analyst duties on ESPN's broadcast Thursday. Dave Flemming will handle play-by-play and Laura Rutledge will work the sidelines. ... Count Darius Tice among those who believe USF's attendance will improve. "From this point going forward, I feel like it's only gonna get better because they came out and we put on a show," he said. Actual attendance for Friday's game was 27,619. ... Dominance factoid of the day -- USF has won 13 of its last 15 home games, with 12 of those victories coming by two or more touchdowns. ... USF's 88 first downs are tied for third nationally. ... DT Bruce Hector recorded his 13th career sack against Illinois, moving him into the program's top 10 in that category.

AUDIBLE: "It was just one guy breaking down, a guy comes inside. Then the next one got blocked, and then after that we got it corrected. It's all fixable, so it's a matter of us just putting the right people out there and getting the right people in place, and those things won't happen." -- Strong on the two kicks (one PAT, one field goal) Illinois blocked in the first quarter Friday (Note: Temple has a nation-best 12 blocked kicks since the start of the 2015 season)

Full Story

Brian Gregory and staff assembling solid '18 class for USF

New USF men's basketball coach Brian Gregory is very quietly putting together a solid '18 recruiting class.

CHARLIE KAIJO | Times

New USF men's basketball coach Brian Gregory is very quietly putting together a solid '18 recruiting class.

Brian Gregory's six-month anniversary as USF men's basketball coach came and went last Thursday, when most of us were too consumed with football and post-Irma recovery to observe it.

So instead, we'll observe this: His 2018 recruiting class -- a trio of three-star commitments -- currently is ranked first in the American Athletic Conference by at least two major scouting services.

Quite inconspicuously, Gregory and his staff have scoured Gregory's old recruiting turf (Georgia) and his native neck of the woods (Chicago) to land three prospects far more solid than spectacular. Considering the mess these coaches inherited, it might rank as USF's biggest upset since the 2014 SMU victory.

"Overall, there might not be any superstars here," Rivals national hoops analyst Corey Evans said, "but there (are) three good pieces that USF should be able to build upon and build with." …

Full Story

Know the foe: Temple

Temple receiver (and Jefferson High alumnus) Ventell Bryant, celebrating a touchdown catch against USF in 2015, returns to his back yard with the Owls on Thursday.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Temple receiver (and Jefferson High alumnus) Ventell Bryant, celebrating a touchdown catch against USF in 2015, returns to his back yard with the Owls on Thursday.

A look at Temple, which plays No. 21 USF on Thursday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickame: Owls
'16 record: 10-4 (7-1 AAC). Won AAC title, lost to Wake Forest 34-26 in Military Bowl
'17 record: 2-1 (lost to Notre Dame 16-49; def. Villanova 16-13, def. Massachusetts 29-21)
Coach: Geoff Collins (first season, 2-1)

The breakdown: The nine sacks the Owls recorded against winless UMass represent the highlight of their young season. Clearly, this isn't the same team that embarrassed USF en route to the league title last year. Collins, Florida's defensive coordinator the previous two seasons, had to rebuild the first and second levels of Temple's defense, and find a quarterback to replace 16-year veteran Phillip Walker. Despite facing a winless team and a I-AA foe (Villanova), Temple still ranks 98th nationally in total offense (356.7 ypg), 118th in total defense (488.7 ypg), and 90th in ESPN's Football Power Index (For advanced-metrics fans, the Owls' Offensive S&P ranks 96th nationally.). One returner Bulls fans will recognize is 240-pound FB Nick Sharga, who mostly annihilated USF's would-be gap-fillers as Temple ran for 319 yards last season. Also back is RB Ryquell Armstead (210 rushing yards vs. the Bulls) and Jefferson High alumnus Ventell Bryant
(54 receptions in 2016). New QB Logan Marchi hasn't thrown a pick in 106 attempts, but Armstead and Co. haven't gotten it going on the ground (94.3 ypg). On the other side, the Owls held both UMass and Villanova to fewer than 100 rushing yards, but were absolutely gashed by Notre Dame (422). On Friday, they face the nation's 13th-ranked rushing offense (281.3 ypg).

Odds and ends: Bryant and fourth-year junior DB Jyquis Thomas (Plant City) are the Owls' only two bay area players. ... Owls redshirt freshman DE Quincy Roche, who had three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against UMass, was named the AAC's Co-Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. ... PK Aaron Boumerhi nailed a career-best 52-yard field goal against the Minutemen.

Audible: "They have that aura about them where they're a physical football team, and you see that. Offense, they do a lot of different things, they give you a lot of different personnel groupings. ... Defense, they're very aggressive. They want to push the tempo on defense." -- USF Charlie Strong

Full Story

Pride a key to USF's defensive turnaround, Strong suggests

USF seniors Mike Love (98) and Deatrick Nichols (3) combine to make a tackle in the Bulls' 47-23 victory Friday against Illinois.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF seniors Mike Love (98) and Deatrick Nichols (3) combine to make a tackle in the Bulls' 47-23 victory Friday against Illinois.

At last, Willie Taggart's weekly refrain about poor tackling and gap control no longer are audible.

The buzz over the resurrection of the "Bull Shark" defense has drowned it out.

After three games, USF ranks first in the American Athletic Conference (and 14th nationally) in run defense (89.3 ypg). This time last year, after three games against a similar level of competition (Towson, Northern Illinois, Syracuse), the Bulls ranked 10th in the league and 82nd in Division I (161.0 ypg).

"It's just the energy and the will that we have on the defensive side," senior FS Tajee Fullwood said following Friday's 47-23 victory against Illinois, in which USF held the Illini to 67 rushing yards (45 on one play). 

Coach Charlie Strong suggests energy and pride have converged to spark the apparent resurgence. Fullwood is among seven senior first-teamers maligned almost weekly last season, when the Bulls surrendered 482 yards (nearly 200 on the ground) per game.

"It's a combination of both because Coach BJ (Brian Jean-Mary) is very aggressive, and he has a way of getting the players ready to go play," Strong said, referring to his defensive coordinator.

"You look at his defense, a lot of the players we have are older players. They've heard a lot about the defense and what they didn't do, and now they're just working hard and proving to everybody what they can do."

The sturdiness doesn't stop with the run defense. The Bulls' eight interceptions are the second-most in the country, behind only Central Michigan (nine), and they rank 17th nationally in pass-efficiency defense (95.30).

AND ABOUT THAT OFFENSE: Despite two shaky opening games and a flag-infested opening half Friday, USF's offensive numbers remain solid.

USF is 13th nationally in rushing offense (281.3 ypg) and 14th in total offense (522.3). The passing numbers have taken a mild dip (241.0 ypg, 60th nationally), but the Bulls remain among 29 teams averaging 40 or more points a game.

INJURY UPDATE: Strong said he expects to have everyone available for Thursday night's AAC opener against Temple, but said WR Deangelo Antoine didn't practice Monday morning. Antoine hobbled off the field in the second half and didn't return.

Strong added WR Darnell Salomon, who didn't suit up against Illinois (unspecified reasons), will be available Thursday.

ODDS AND ENDS: The AAC announced Monday the Bulls' Sept. 30 game at East Carolina will kick off at noon and be televised on the CBS Sports Network. ... Actual attendance for Friday's game (per the Tampa Sports Authority) was 27,619. ... Fullwood ranks ninth nationally in punt returns (18.6 yards per attempt). ... Senior Jonathan Hernandez currently leads the AAC in punting (42.7 yards per attempt). ... Fourth-year junior WR Stanley Clerveaux's two catches (for 12 yards) Friday were one more than his career total entering the game. ... When asked Monday about the Bulls' 16 penalties against Illinois, Strong said, "It's more of just looking at 'em and make sure we play better football and be a better disciplined team. There's no reason for so many penalties."

Full Story

Ballot breakdown: USF at No. 21

USF tailback D'Ernest Johnson (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown in Friday's 47-23 triumph against Illinois.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF tailback D'Ernest Johnson (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown in Friday's 47-23 triumph against Illinois.

As one would expect, our own Matt Baker has spent a hearty portion of this splendid Sunday afternoon trying to explain via Twitter (and this blog post) why he left USF off his latest Associated Press ballot.

As if he were the only one.

Eighteen of the 61 voters (29.5 percent) still kept the Bulls out their personal top 25 in the wake of USF's 47-23 romp of Big Ten foe Illinois. That group includes two other Florida-based voters: veteran Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley and the Orlando Sentinel's Safid Deen, who primarily covers FSU.

By contrast, Bob Asmussen of the Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette had USF at No. 14 on his ballot, second-highest of any voter.

"I tend to go by quality of wins," Dooley said Sunday. "Felt there were tons of teams with better ones (than USF). Not all 3-0 records are created equally."

Still, USF -- at No. 21 -- remains the highest-ranked Group of Five team, one spot ahead of San Diego State, which upset Stanford 20-17 late Saturday.

Here's a week-by-week look at the number of voters who kept the Bulls off their respective ballot

Week 4: 18
Week 3: 25
Week 2: 21
Preseason: 7

Full Story

Did Quinton Flowers re-enter the Heisman discussion Friday?

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) totaled 386 yards and five touchdowns (four passing) in the Bulls' 47-23 victory against Illinois.

AP photo

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) totaled 386 yards and five touchdowns (four passing) in the Bulls' 47-23 victory against Illinois.

Like the rest of his peers, Quinton Flowers sputtered through the season's first eight quarters. Periodically, he was getting sacked -- and frustrated. His pocket wasn't moving, nor was the needle on his Heisman odds.

And the grim presumption was, his already-remote chances to capture college football's most coveted individual prize had petered out before Labor Day.

Then came Friday night, when a national TV audience saw Flowers, circa 2016. Seemingly suppressed in lackluster wins against San Jose State and Stony Brook, Flowers was unleashed in USF's 47-23 romp of Illinois. He improvised in the pocket, benefited from higher-percentage throws. He dashed, darted, dodged.

And by the end of his 386-yard, five-touchdown night, he might -- just might -- have re-entered the Heisman discussion.

"I told the guys, 'I'm just gonna go out there and be myself, and just play like myself,'" Flowers said.

He did it on a night when his team had the national spotlight all to itself.

Fortunately, Heisman candidacy can be a fickle thing, and Heisman voters can possess short-term memories. Presume, for a moment, that Charlie Strong and offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert continue affording Flowers the latitude they gave him Friday.

Such profusion could become a weekly occurrence, and suddenly Stony Brook falls farther into the recesses of the nation's consciousness. Granted, skepticism will remain over the quality of USF's schedule and the viability of a Group of Five player winning the Heisman.

But the numbers -- and possibly an undefeated Bulls season -- will be too much to simply ignore.

"It's amazing  because the guy can do so much, and he'll probably tell you he left a few yards out on the field," Strong said after Friday's game. "But if we can get those numbers and he can continue to improve, then we have a chance to really be a special team."

And Flowers has a chance -- albeit a slim one -- to get to New York.

Full Story

Illinois-USF journal: Bulls, Illini nearly set penalties record

USF place-kicker Emilio Nadelman (35) tries to run down Illinois' Nate Hobbs after his first-quarter PAT was blocked.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF place-kicker Emilio Nadelman (35) tries to run down Illinois' Nate Hobbs after his first-quarter PAT was blocked.

While the American and state flags carried by the Bulls as they emerged from their tunnel Friday were the most poignant, they were hardly the most prevalent.

For the rest of the night, the yellow ones were hurled and heaved all over Raymond James Stadium.

USF and Illinois combined for 31 penalties, five shy  of the Division I record set by San Jose State and Fresno State in 1986. USF finished with 16 for the night, two shy of the program single-game record set twice (in 2004 and '05)

“The penalties are on us, we can’t be undisciplined as a football team,” Coach Charlie Strong said. “The penalties stopped a lot of drives.”

Along with the flags, USF’s blocked-kick total rose to four as the special team woes continued into Week 3. USF’s first two drives ended with the Fighting Illini blocking an Emilio Nadelman 36-yard field goal try, then a Nadelman PAT. …

Full Story

USF's men's basketball conference schedule released

New USF men's basketball coach Brian Gregory's team opens American Athletic Conference play Dec. 28 at home against Houston.

Times file photo

New USF men's basketball coach Brian Gregory's team opens American Athletic Conference play Dec. 28 at home against Houston.

The USF men's basketball team will open its American Athletic Conference slate Dec. 28 at home against Houston, the league announced Friday.

The entire conference schedule was revealed and can be seen here. Combined with USF's non-conference schedule released earlier, the Bulls' 2017-18 slate now is complete.

The non-conference highlight is a Nov. 19 game at Indiana and a home game against former longtime conference rival Charlotte on Dec. 21.

Because each team plays seven conference opponents twice and four only once, neither AAC newcomer Wichita State nor Connecticut travel to the Sun Dome this year. The Bulls play at Wichita State on Jan. 7 (4 p.m., CBS Sports Network), and visit UConn on Feb. 7 (7 p.m., ESPNU).

No time has been set for the Houston game on Dec. 28, but it will be broadcast on either ESPNU or ESPNews. UCF visits the Sun Dome on Jan. 20 (6 p.m., ESPNU).

Full Story

USF's schedule rearranged, UConn game back on

Associated Press

In an effort to salvage its weather-battered league schedule, the American Athletic Conference announced a litany of changes to its slate, including the rescheduling of several USF contests.

The tweaks will allow the Bulls' game at Connecticut, originally slated for last weekend, to be played Nov. 4 in East Hartford. The USF-Houston game, originally set for Nov. 4 at Raymond James Stadium, will be played Oct. 28 instead.

The USF-Cincinnati contest, initially set for Oct. 28 in Tampa, moves to Oct. 14, when the Bulls were set to host Massachusetts for their homecoming. …

Full Story

Bulls still seeking the 'right 5' up front

USF offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert (center) has used the same starting offensive line the first two games, but that could change Friday against Illinois.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

USF offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert (center) has used the same starting offensive line the first two games, but that could change Friday against Illinois.

Since spring practice dawned roughly six months ago, USF's offensive staff has experimented with different lineups along the offensive front in search of a unit that will mesh.

Eight shaky quarters into the season, the experimenting continues, offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert suggested.

"It's just reps, and still finding the right five, that's the thing," Gilbert said after Wednesday's practice, held in probably the mildest weather of the season (around 90 degrees) to date.

The No. 22 Bulls enter Friday night's home game against Illinois 90th nationally in sacks allowed (2.5 per game), a staggering figure considering the mobility of QB Quinton Flowers. They churned out 315 rushing yards at San Jose State, but managed 153 on 49 carries (3.1 yards per attempt) against Division I-AA Stony Brook.

The same lineup -- LT Eric Mayes, LG Jeremi Hall, C Michael Galati, RG Cameron Ruff, RT Marcus Norman -- started both games.

"They go, we go," Gilbert said. "But you have to find the five and those five have to mesh and be all on the same page about what's going on. We don't mind shuffling the deck to find that, it's not something you just knee-jerk and just do.

"We just have to make sure it's the right five, and we really find ourself liking the direction we're going with those guys right now."

POLK SIDELINED: Defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary confirmed redshirt freshman MLB Andre Polk Jr., whose left knee was in a brace at practice late last week, won't be available for Saturday's game.

"They're gonna do some more tests on him," Jean-Mary said. "He kind of tweaked his knee, so we're gonna wait to see what the end result is on some of the scans and stuff right now, but he's not gonna be with us this week."

AUDIBLE: "The focus has been good. I think sometimes when you have a serious situation like we just had, guys come back and they're probably a little bit more appreciative of the opportunity to play when they have a game taken from them. So they've come out and have had little bounce in their step and a lot of energy." -- Jean-Mary, on the effort he has seen in this condensed practice week

Full Story

Bulls remain atop AAC power rankings after Week 2

Middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez and USF remain atop this week's American Athletic Conference power rankings, as compiled by league reporters.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez and USF remain atop this week's American Athletic Conference power rankings, as compiled by league reporters.

Two American Athletic Conference games were canceled as a result of Hurricane Irma last week, and it's unclear either will be rescheduled. Meanwhile, Houston, unable to play its opener because of Hurricane Harvey, kicked off 2017 with a win against a Power Five opponent.

Here’s how AAC teams stacked up this week, as voted upon by a league-wide panel of beat reporters.

1. USF (2-0): The threat of Hurricane Irma prompted USF to call off its trip to Connecticut for a Saturday game against the Huskies that had been pushed to a morning kickoff. But Friday's home game against Illinois will go on as scheduled, with Coach Charlie Strong announcing Tuesday that first responders and their families (up to four per party), as well as any state high school team, will receive free admission. -- Joey Knight, Tampa Bay Times

2. Houston (1-0): By no means was it pretty, but the Cougars held on to beat Arizona, 19-16, for Major Applewhite's first win as coach last weekend. While the defense came up with a late interception to seal the game and allowed only a pair of second-half field goals, the offense was vanilla and put together only one impressive drive as QB Kyle Allen threw two interceptions and had a fumble in his debut. The Cougars play crosstown rival Rice this week in the annual Bayou Bucket -- the first game for both teams in the city since Tropical Storm Harvey. -- Joseph Duarte, Houston Chronicle

T-3. Memphis (1-0): The Tigers boarded a charter flight to Orlando last Thursday only to land and discover their game against UCF the following night had been cancelled. But by the time they were back in the air, returning to Memphis, Coach Mike Norvell already was watching film on the team’s next opponent: No. 25 UCLA. Memphis will host the Bruins on Saturday morning in the most anticipated game of its 2017 season, a matchup that will be televised nationally on ABC.  -- Tom Schad, The Commercial Appeal

T-3. Navy (2-0, 1-1 AAC): The Midshipmen escaped Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with a 23-21 victory against Tulane last weekend. It was a real defensive slugfest, with a safety proving decisive. Navy's defense is much-improved over last season, allowing only 20 points and 296 total yards through two games. The Midshipmen are not playing this week and return to action Sept. 23 against Cincinnati. -- Bill Wagner, Baltimore Sun Media Group

5. UCF (1-0): The Knights postponed their conference opener against Memphis in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm that impacted the entire state and forced the evacuation of more than six million residents. The storm has been responsible for at least 25 deaths throughout the Caribbean. UCF was scheduled to return to its nonconference schedule by hosting Georgia Tech on Saturday, but that game also was called off as the state continues to recover from the storm. -- Matt Murschel, Orlando Sentinel

6. SMU (2-0): The Mustangs handled one of their crosstown rivals Saturday, beating North Texas 54-32 behind the performance of WR Courtland Sutton. The junior gained 163 yards and broke the conference record for single-game receiving touchdowns with four against the Mean Green. Next, SMU will face its other crosstown rival, TCU, in the Battle for the Iron Skillet. The Mustangs have not beaten the Horned Frogs since 2011. -- Adam Grosbard, Dallas Morning News

7. Tulsa (1-1): The Hurricane got back on track with a 66-42 home win against Louisiana on Saturday, relying on a 424-yard rushing performance that included a career-high 262 yards from D'Angelo Brewer. QB Chad President also established himself as Tulsa's starter, accounting for three TDs. In a shootout that featured the most points and yards (667) produced by Philip Montgomery's offense, the defense continued to struggle, allowing 596 yards. Tulsa ranks last nationally in total defense (618 ypg) and next visits a dangerous Toledo team that had one of the best offenses in college football in 2016. -- Kelly Hines, Tulsa World

8. Temple (1-1): The Owls squandered a 13-point lead and needed a career-best 49-yard field goal from Aaron Boumheri to beat Division I-AA Vilanova, 16-13. Temple's Logan Marchi hasn't thrown an interception, but the running game is averaging only 2.6 yards per carry. The Owls now host winless Massachusetts on Friday before their toughest two-game stretch -- at USF and at home against Houston -- to end a difficult month of September. -- Marc Narducci, Philadelphia Inquirer

9. Cincinnati (1-1): Bearcats RB Mike Boone said UC hoped to “shock the world” at No. 8 Michigan. The Bearcats were within three late in the third quarter, but a late collapse resulted in a 36-14 loss. Boone rushed 12 times for 44 yards and a TD. QB Hayden Moore was only 15-for-40 for 132 yards, with one TD and two pick-six interceptions. Up next is neighboring rival Miami (Ohio), which the Bearcats have defeated 11 consecutive times. -- Tom Groeschen, Cincinnati Enquirer

10. Tulane (1-1, 0-1 AAC): For only the second time in his coaching career, Willie Fritz lost a game when his team was plus-two or better in turnover margin. Both have come against Navy. Despite losing QB Jonathan Banks to an injury in the second quarter, the Green Wave almost ended the Midshipmen's 14-game regular-season home winning streak, holding them to 326 yards but picking up only 262 of its own in a 23-21 loss. Next up is a trip to No. 2 Oklahoma. Tulane, 0-12 all-time against second-ranked teams, is a 34-point underdog against Baker Mayfield and Co. -- Guerry Smith, The New Orleans Advocate

11. Connecticut (1-0): With their home game against USF canceled, the Huskies practiced for two hours on campus Saturday. Aside from having no game film to review nor recent corrections to make, UConn fell back into its typical game-week pattern with a light workout Sunday. The Huskies opened Aug. 31 with a victory against Holy Cross and won't have another home game until Oct. 6 (vs. Memphis). UConn plays Saturday at Virginia, followed by a bye and a game Sept. 30 at SMU. -- Mike Anthony, The Hartford Courant

12. East Carolina (0-2): The Pirates reached a new low when they trailed West Virginia 49-3 at halftime in Saturday’s eventual 56-20 loss in Morgantown. Coupled with ECU's opening-night loss to James Madison, the Pirates are desperate for change and Coach Scottie Montgomery made one Sunday, removing defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson and replacing him with defensive line coach Robert Prunty. Things won't get easier for ECU, which already has been outscored 90-34 in two games, as the Pirates take on No. 16 Virginia Tech next. -- Nathan Summers, The Daily Reflector

Full Story

Bulls begin 'condensed' practice week

"We only have three days to prepare," coach Charlie Strong said, "but our guys, they want to go in there and play."

Getty Images

"We only have three days to prepare," coach Charlie Strong said, "but our guys, they want to go in there and play."

Having mostly weathered Hurricane Irma, the Bulls returned to practice Tuesday to face a challenge far less significant and sobering, but sturdy in its own way.

Preparing for a Big Ten opponent in three days.

The Bulls gathered for their first formal meeting of game week Tuesday afternoon before holding their first practice in five days. The impact of Irma has caused a short week — a Friday night ESPN game — to get even shorter, forcing the team to condense some of its preparation.

"Last week, we didn’t get to play that game (at Connecticut), so now we take last week and some of the things we were going to use game plan-wise, we’re just going to take them into this week," coach Charlie Strong said.

"You’re right, we only have three days to prepare, but our guys, they want to go in there and play, and I know It’s been hard to sit for two weeks. Even knowing what's happened around us, not saying that isn’t important, but we needed to get back also."

MLB Auggie Sanchez said the extended layoff may have been a mixed blessing, giving nicked-up players a little extra time to recover. …

Full Story

Strong invites first responders, high school teams to USF game

USF football coach Charlie Strong said Hurricane Irma "just put everything in perspective."

JOEY KNIGHT | Times

USF football coach Charlie Strong said Hurricane Irma "just put everything in perspective."

As a tangible measure of gratitude to the first responders who remained mostly indefatigable during Hurricane Irma, Charlie Strong and the Bulls want to deliver them a victory.

On the house.

Strong said Tuesday all first responders and their families (up to four people per party) will be admitted free Friday night when the No. 22 Bulls host the Fighting Illini at Raymond James Stadium. So will the players and coaches of any high school football team in the state, most of whom have had another weekend of games wiped out by the effects of Hurricane Irma.

"It's all about who's been impacted by the storm," said Strong, whose team held its first post-Irma practice Tuesday afternoon.

"You want (to win) because now we have a way to give back to the community and give back in a really good way, where they have a chance to watch our football team." …

Full Story

Know the foe: Illinois

Illinois coach Lovie Smith already has used 17 true freshmen this season.

AP photo

Illinois coach Lovie Smith already has used 17 true freshmen this season.

A look at Illinois, which plays No. 22 USF on Friday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickame: Fighting Illini
'16 record: 3-9
'17 record: 2-0 (def. Ball State 24-21, def. Western Kentucky 20-7)
Coach: Lovie Smith (second season, 5-9)

The breakdown: Smith, fired as Bucs coach 20 months ago, already has used 17 true freshmen this season. He started a school-record seven (three on defense) against Western Kentucky, and the Illini held the Hilltoppers -- quarterbacked by former USF starter Mike White -- to fewer than 10 points for the first time in five years. WKU managed 6 rushing yards in that game, its lowest output since at least 2000. Among the most impressive rookies so far has been Largo High alumnus Bobby Roundtree, a 6-foot-5 defensive end who had two sacks and a forced fumble against WKU, and already has three sacks this season. Offensively, Smith employed an entirely different starting line from the one he used against Ball State, and the Illini ran for 193 yards (after rushing for 71 against Ball State). As one might expect with Smith's background, the offense appears pro-style, and opened with two tight ends against WKU. Freshman Mike Esptein, who played at Fort Lauderdale dynasty St. Thomas Aquinas, had 21 carries for 111 yards against the Hilltoppers.

Odds and ends: Beloved former Bucs LB Hardy Nickerson is Smith's defensive coordinator, while former Bucs CB Donnie Abraham is the defensive backs coach. Abraham will be facing his son, Bulls senior S Devin Abraham, on Friday. ... Roundtree is among three former bay area prep standouts on the Illini roster. The others are LB Tre Watson (Tampa Catholic) and LB Jake Hansen (East Lake). ... Senior WR Malik Turner has caught a pass in 22 consecutive games. ... Backup QB Jeff George Jr. is the son of the former Illini/NFL journeyman starter.

Audible: "I'm not one of those touchy-feely guys like that. I mean, I spent a lot of time down there. I'm a homeowner still down there, I know the area. ... I remember when (the Bulls) first started their program, so you know, we have some of that, but our football team needs to get a road win, not a whole lot more than that." -- Smith, responding to a question about returning to Tampa

Full Story

Illinois-USF game to be played Friday as scheduled

USF and coach Charlie Strong face Big Ten foe Illinois on Friday night at Raymond James Stadium.

USF and coach Charlie Strong face Big Ten foe Illinois on Friday night at Raymond James Stadium.

Friday night's nationally televised game between No. 22 USF and Illinois will be played as scheduled at Raymond James Stadium.

USF, which had been working with local officials and authorities to assess the local impact of Hurricane Irma before agreeing to let the game proceed, announced this morning it's a go. The announcement was nearly simultaneous with the official word that Sunday's Bucs-Bears game also would be held at Raymond James.

Friday's kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ESPN will televise the game.

"We are grateful that our student-athletes, staff and their families are safe and accounted for," athletic director Mark Harlan said in a news release.

"After consulting with university leadership and the Tampa Sports Authority, we are confident that Friday's game can proceed safely as scheduled without impacting the recovery efforts. Our thoughts remain with all of those impacted by the hurricane in Florida and elsewhere, and we express sincere gratitude to all first-responders for their efforts."

The Bulls resume practice today, giving them three days to prepare for a 2-0 Big Ten team coming off a surprising 20-7 triumph against Western Kentucky. …

Full Story