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USF used late defense for dramatic win over BYU

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Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

In a matter of just two games, the USF Bulls have turned their season’s bleak looking fortunes around,  as Saturday they held off a tough BYU team not once, but twice, in the waning moments with defense.

The Cougars had the ball inside the ball inside South Florida’s 20 yard line down by four points two different times in the last 2:30 only to have Charlie Strong’s bunch hang on for a clutch victory. And, that now gives them momentum headed into the second half of the season.

Yes, running back Jordan Cronkrite ran with authority for 158 yards on 26 carries and two second-half touchdowns, as usf rallied from a 23-14 third quarter deficit to take a 27-23 lead with 7 minutes remaining.

But, the Green and Gold would need their defense to stymie BYU and to preserve the lead of less than one touchdown

And, the Cougars look like they were going to get that touchdown, as backup quarterback Baylor Romney drove them to the USF 8 yard line.

But, that’s when the Bulls stuffed running back Aleva Hifo for a 2 yard loss on third down, it brought up a second guessers delight coaching decision.

That’s when BYU boss Kelani Sitake decided not to kick a field goal, despite having all three of his time outs left and it would have put his team within one point.

Instead, they went for the first down and potential winning TD. But, the QB Romney completed a pass to his brother WR Gunner Romney for just 5 yards with USF keeping him two yards short and the Bulls took over possession.

The Cougars defense did their job and they used their three time outs to get the ball back one final time.

Again, Rowney completed a couple of key passes and the Bulls were guilty of a 15 yard pass interference  penalty, which set BYU up with first and ten at the USF 12 yard line with less than :30 to go.

But, once again, the Bulls got a big sack on third down from Antonio Grier and then, Romney’s desperation pass to the end zone on the final play of the game was batted down by defensive back Devin Studstill to end it:

As the ball fell to the earth, the Bulls rushed the field, celebrating wildly having evened their record at 3-3. They deserved to celebrate.

Just two weeks ago, we wrote that they were humiliated at home by conference opponent SMU and that coach Charlie Strong was clearly in trouble with a 1-in 3 start with 2 blowout losses and having lost 9 of 10 games dating back to 2018.

Credit the Bulls, as they responded with an impressive win against UConn last Saturday. However, that came against the Huskies who are awful. So, most fans of the program and observers wanted to see USF validate things on Saturday.

And, because BYU had already won earlier this season at Tennessee and beaten USC at home, this was a confidence builder. A large one.

Yes, Strong’s team played with heart and out-executed their opponents from Provo, Utah.

And now, the Bulls have a chance to get back above .500 to start the second half of the season, when they play at Navy next week

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New Bulls coach Scott eagerly embracing new challenge

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a runner-up finish in Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game loss to LSU, former Clemson co-offensive coordinator, and new USF head coach, Jeff Scott is now going full throttle in his first few days back in Tampa with his new program.

Scott posted on social media Friday morning that one of his top priorities is to reconnect with all of the jigh school coaches in and around the Tampa area:

This is not unfamiliar for the first-time head coach, as this was part of his role was procuring players for Dabo Swinney’s Tigers out of West Central Florida.

Scott also gave access to the Tampa Bay Times and beat writer Joey Knight on his inaugural meeting with his new team Thursday at the USF facility.

And, Scott began by prioritizing his team in the meeting room having the seniors sit in the front with the juniors behind and then, the underclassmen behind them.

It will be a challenge over the next season or two for Scott to revitalize a program that essentially went “off the cliff in the middle of the 2018 season.” That’s when the Bulls under Charlie Strong lost their remaining six games, including their bowl game and then, were blown out twice early in the 2019 season to drop to 1-3.

USF regained their footing in the middle of the year wining against lesser American Athletic Conference competition in a couple of games, but promptly lost out, including their final 4 games to finish 4-8. That resulted in Strong’s firing.

The 39 year old Scott had Clemson through and through, as he played for the Tigers in the early 2000s for three years and returned to become an assistant coach for the Tigers in 2008. Since then, he has been a receiver’s coach, recruiting coordinator, and then, co-offensive coordinator for the last three years.

The Tigers, behind All-American QB Trevor Lawrence,  rolled through a second straight unbeaten season and then, a 62-17 blowout win over Virginia in the ACC Title Game. In a bid to repeat as National Champs, the Tigers defeated Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on December 28th in one of the College Football playoff semi-finals.

Alas, the “fairy tale” did end well, as LSU behind Heisman winning QB Joe Burrow, defeated them 42-25 Monday night in New Orleans.

There’s some more that USF fans can be excited about and Scott’s successes with wide receivers. He has helped develop some great NFL prospects like DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Williams. His  current Clemson group likely has at least two more NFL wideouts, too.

After years of the inconsistent offense, it appears that the Bulls leaders felt a change in philosphy was needed.

And Scott, the son of former FSU and Clemson offensive coordinator Brad Scott, appears to be the guy to change it all.

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Coordinator musical chairs all related to Willie Taggart

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Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Now that head coaching hires have been made at the prominent jobs in the state and around college football, the musical chairs of assistants and specifically coordinators is also fascinating. And in the case of FSU, USF and FAU they are all interrelated to former USF and FSU-now FAU, boss, Willie Taggart.

In Boca Raton, the new FAU coach has announced his first coordinator hire and it’s none other than his former defensive consultant at Florida State, his former defensive coordinator at Oregon and the former USF head coach, Jim Leavitt:

Taggart had brought Leavitt on board, as the season began to unfold in Tallahassee, initially, to consult, but eventually as a defensive coach on the field.

The tandem came together in Eugene, Oregon three years ago, when Taggart left USF and was hired by the Ducks. He then brought Leavitt with him from being the defensive coordinator at Colorado.

However, Leavitt did not follow Taggart to Florida State in 2018, as had been reported that he would. He stayed behind for one more season, in Eugene.

Meanwhile, Taggart had a disastrous 5-7 first season with FSU after having hired former Michigan State defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett to run his defense. Meanwhile, Leavitt was fired after the 2018 season by Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and then, was available to come join Taggart this year.

However it was to no avail , as Taggart was fired himself, on November 3rd after just nine games into his second season.

Continuing, Taggart had hired Kendal Briles to run his offense in 2019 from Houston, but Briles had previously been at, wait for it… Florida Atlantic as the OC. And now, there’s word of where Briles is headed, and, that’s to the University of Arkansas, as their new offensive coordinator.

The Hogs made a surprising coaching hire of former Georgia offensive line coach, Stan Pittman, who has never been a head coach at the college level before. Desperate to improve in the SEC West, Briles up tempo offense did help the Florida State in terms of increases of  yardage per game and points per game output this past season.

Meanwhile, back at USF, new coach Jeff Scott had already announced on Sunday that former FAU defensive coordinator and head coach for their bowl game, Glenn Spencer, is his new defensive coordinator in Tampa.

Spencer has extensive experience, especially as a defensive assistant and coordinator for over a decade at Oklahoma State.

Staying with the “musical chairs” connected to his current and former jobs:

On Monday evening Scott also announced that Charlie Weis Jr., the son of the former Notre Dame coach and Patriots offensive coordinator, would be joining his staff with the Bulls.

Weis had most recently been the offensive coordinator for…..you guessed it again, the last two years at Florida Atlantic taking over for Briles with Lane Kiffin. But, Kiffin did not take Weis with him, when he left FAU for Ole Miss two weeks ago. And, Taggart did not retain Weis.

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At 27 years of age Weis is still the youngest coordinator in FBS football.

So, to recap: Taggart and Leavitt are back together for the third time in four seasons in the third different location.

Spencer and Weis, who were the coordinators at Florida Atlantic for Kiffin, weren’t kept by Taggart, but are now are now both at USF, where Taggart and Leavitt used to be head coaches.

And Briles, who coached for Taggart and for part of the year with Leavitt in Tallahassee is now on his way to the SEC with the Hogs.

It’s never dull with a coaching carousel.

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