USF Defense Provides Much-Needed Win

After losing four out of its last five games, USF rebounded with a 17-13 win over Connecticut in this season’s final home game. The victory allowed the Bulls to avoid their first four-game losing streak in school history and guaranteed USF a bowl appearance, likely in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 20.

Still reeling from a three-game skid, the Bulls needed the win to lift the emotional burden of not playing up to expectations that led to this year’s mid-season collapse.

“We didn’t realize how long it’s been,” safety Carlton Williams told The St. Petersburg Times. “It’s been like a month. The feeling feels great.”

A much-needed win, the game also proved bittersweet for 21 seniors who played their final game in front of the home crowd at Raymond James Stadium. USF coaches, teammates and fans alike bid farewell to several key players including Jarriett Buie, Marcus Edwards, Taurus Johnson, Carlton Williams, Tyrone McKenzie, Ben Williams and Brouce Mompremier.

The seniors ended on a good note. Although the Bulls’ offense was not overpowering, totaling 247 total yards, it took just five plays over two minutes for USF to take a 7-0 lead. Dontavia Bogan sparked the drive with an 86-yard return on the opening kickoff, capped by a 3-yard run by Ben Williams.

USF’s defense was a different story. The Bulls compensated for the offense by holding Donald Brown, the nation’s leading rusher, to 96 yards on the night. Coming in to Sunday’s contest, Brown averaged 154 yards per game. With Connecticut threatening inside the five-yard line, the Bulls defense held strong and forced the Huskies to settle for a field goal and a seven-point deficit at halftime.

“We were physical and we knew what we had to do,” defensive end George Selvie said. “Just to have somebody play like that [for the seniors] is great.”

The defensive theme, as well as the momentum, carried into the second half during the fourth quarter with the game on the line. The Bulls stopped the Huskies on two consecutive drives: first on a third down-and-five from inside the 20 and again on a fourth down-and four, in which Connecticut got the first down but fumbled. Riding Jamar Taylor’s 25-yard touchdown run from the third quarter, USF sealed their seventh win of the season.

“The team defensively started to turn and finally did what they were supposed to do,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “We played football like defensive football is supposed to be played. It’s the best game I think we’ve had.”

USF wraps up 2008 with a tough game against conference rival West Virginia in Morgantown on Dec. 6.  A win against the Mountaineers and the Bulls could contend for a berth in the Gator Bowl.

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