| 9 years ago||
Wally Burnham has been around too long to worry about how his defense played against Florida Atlantic on Saturday.
The Bulls defense struggled to stop FAU in several key situations.
The USF defensive coordinator/associate head coach said it was their poorest outing of the season, but USF got the win (35-23) and learned a valuable lesson.
The Bulls (5-0) came into the game ranked sixth in the country and took FAU's best shot. Expect more of the same every week, Burnham told his players.
The Owls offense played at a frenzied pace and their running backs ran as if they weren't going to be denied, breaking numerous tackles.
Burnham knows it's all part of living in the high rent district. The Bulls are now ranked fifth in both the a.ssociated Press and the USA Today Coaches Poll.
It's nice to be up there in the penthouse, but it's also dangerous. Every team wants to toss you off the balcony and make its season.
"We got the win," was the message Burnham kept repeating after the game. He knows his players are getting acclimated to their lofty status and nothing comes easy at that altitude.
"It's human nature. You can't play at the highest level every single Saturday. You just hope you play good enough to win the ball game," Burnham said. "The atmosphere (at 20,000 capacity Lockhart Stadium) didn't have the feel of a big game, but our kids have to learn that you've got to play at the same mental level every Saturday if we are going to maintain what we are doing.
"In the second half, we didn't tackle well, but it's all a new situation for our kids. Maybe we learned something this week."
The defense got a welcome gift from the USF offense, though it didn't start making its contribution until the second half and had to overcome a sluggish beginning marred by turnovers.
Offensive tackle Walt Walker was not happy with the Bulls running game that produced only 45 yards rushing in the first half. But it was totally different after intermission when USF racked up 257 yards on the ground as quarterback Matt Grothe (120 yards rushing) and tailback Ben Williams (186 yards) had career days.
Walker said the difference between the first and second half was all a matter of attitude.
"We didn't play our game in the first half and we decided it was time to wake up," Walker said. "Coach (Jim) Leavitt told us don't panic and get ourselves together, be a family, wake up. Ben helped get it going. He went to the offensive line and said we are going to get it together. He said you trust me and I'll trust you."
With running backs Jamar Taylor out with an injured ankle he sprained in the first half and Mike Ford suspended for missing class, it was all on Williams, who broke the school record with four touchdowns, including a 54 yarder on the longest TD run of his career.
Always humble, always modest, the former walk-on said he was just happy to contribute. He knows next week, his number of carries (25) might drop, but he is not concerned. If anything he is a bit too hard on himself, Walker said.
Williams had one of the Bulls three fumbles and it came after he had run 11 yards to give USF a first down at the FAU 39 while clinging to a 21-17 lead 17 seconds into the fourth quarter. Two USF possessions later, Williams broke free on his personal record-setting TD run.
"I was upset with myself after the fumble, but you've got to let it go and come back and play," Williams said. "I did the best that I could and everybody helped. In the second half, our offense came ready to play and executed. It's a great honor to get those four touchdowns, but I just want to be consistent."
For the second straight week, the Bulls took the second half kickoff and drove down the field for a touchdown. They used nine plays to cover 76 yards and all of them were on the ground, except for a 5-yard pass to Jessie Hester. Williams ran for 44 yards on five carries and Grothe picked up 27 yards on three rushes in the drive.
"We knew we had to pound the ball a little in the second half and if that didn't work we were going to crank it up and throw it on every play," USF offensive coordinator Greg Gregory said. "We got much better blocking in the second half, especially on that first drive and we moved the ball well the entire second half."
Gregory says there isn't much more the coaches can do to combat the fumbles and 11 turnovers the Bulls have committed over the last three games. Grothe needs to make better decisions on his passing, but the team has worked hard to cut down on the fumbles.
"I don't know anyone who does more ball security drills then Carl Franks (running backs coach)," Gregory said. "I don't know if there is anything else we can do other than to keep harping on it. With our four turnovers today, we probably eliminated about 20 plays. Cedric Hill and Ben's came on a first down so that's at least three more plays each time."
Gregory said he expected Ford to be back in the lineup next Saturday against Central Florida. He wasn't sure about Taylor, though Leavitt said he expected him back.
Kevin Smith is gonna be a load this weekend... and we might have to worry if the bench Israel, and Greco starts at qb... I've seen him practicing and hes pretty good, runs a 4.3 at qb and has a pretty strong arm... If we face Israel it should be a win...