No. 21 USF Kicks Off Second Half Against Visiting UConn

TAMPA – It was September 22 the last time USF played at home. Little has changed since. The weather remains a scorcher and the Bulls continue to find a way to pull out games in the fourth quarter.

There is something that has changed, though: the polls. The Bulls (6-0/2-0 AAC) went from receiving a few token votes in the rankings to being No. 20 in the coaches poll and No. 21 in the AP following their late rally in a 25-24 win at Tulsa last Friday night.

USF, which is bowl eligible for the fourth straight season, looks to equal its best start in program history, set last season, with a homecoming date against UConn on Saturday evening (7 p.m. CBSSN/820 AM) at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls have had a bye and games at UMass and Tulsa since their last home game, which was against ECU.

“We’re excited to play at RayJay again,” said Tyre McCants, who leads the team with 34 receptions and 391 yards. “It’s been a long stretch (since we last played at home.) Everybody is excited to come back to RayJay and we’ll be excited to see the fans coming out. So it’ll be a good game with the atmosphere.”

It should be a happy homecoming against a UConn program that has fallen on very hard times in recent years.

Dating to the middle of the 2016 season the Huskies (1-5/0-3) have won only two of their last 22 against FBS opponenets. Their lone victory this season was a 56-49 escape over Rhode Island of the FCS. Coach Randy Edsall, in the second season of his second tour of duty at UConn, has seen his team outscored in five games against FBS foes by an average of 53-13. On the season, the defense is allowing an incredible 658 yards per game. That is not only last among the 129 FBS teams, but is last by 117 yards!

If nothing else the USF running game should continue to shine. Jordan Cronkrite has exploded on the scene and is averaging 151.4 yards rushing per game to rank third nationally. The Huskies are 128th in rushing defense in allowing 322 yards per game. Conference members Cincinnati (320 yards) and Memphis (378) had field days with the run game against them the last two games.

Coach Charlie Strong, though, knows that his team must focus on the task at hand regardless of the opponent. That means not looking ahead to a game at Houston next week. Furthermore, the Bulls have struggled to put together a thorough 60-minute effort.

“It’s just human nature because you know the guys are going to look down the road,” he said during his Monday morning press conference. “This is a one-game season. We have to focus on this game and we have to stay locked in on this game. You just have to talk about it all the time, ‘It’s UConn, guys, we have to go play well.’ They haven’t had the season (they wanted to have), but still, you are in the conference and if you don’t go out with the right preparation some bad things can happen to you.”

The Bulls should have plenty of good things happen to them Saturday night before heavy lifting is required. There is next week’s game at Houston (5-1/2-0) and a November that includes games at No. 20 Cincinnati (6-0/2-0) and Temple (4-3/3-0) and the regular-season finale against visiting No. 9 UCF (6-0/3-0), which like last season could be for all the marbles in the AAC East.

“I told our guys after the open date (before the UMass game) that we have eight games left and five of them are on the road, so we are not going to be home that much,” said Strong, who is one of 17 coaches named to the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year midseason watch list. “To come back for homecoming with Connecticut is going to be big for us and be real good for us. Whenever we get a chance to play in front of our home crowd we need to play well.”

About UConn
Junior linebacker Eli Thomas suffered a stroke last week prior to a weightlifting session. Fellow linebacker Santana Sterling will wear Thomas’ No. 22 on Saturday….The aforementioned statistical horrors pretty much sum up how this year has gone. Four of the Huskies’ five defeats have been by at least 40 points and they have scored just 66 points in their five games against FBS opponents….Quarterback David Pindell is at least having a decent season. The senior, who started four games last season after transferring from junior college, is fourth in the conference in total offense with an average of 264 yards per game. He can run (77 yards per game) and has totaled 14 touchdowns, but the rest of the offense has totaled all of three TDs. Pindell came on in relief last season against the Bulls and totaled 56 yards and a TD rushing…..Sophomore safety Tyler Cole leads the conference in tackles with 10.2 per game….UConn is coming off a bye week.

Bulls Bits
USF is 10-5 against UConn and has won the last six meetings, including last season’s 37-20 victory in Hartford…..The Bulls are one of eight undefeated teams and one of three (Cincinnati, UCF) in the AAC East Division….Kicker Coby Weiss was the conference’s co-special teams player of the week and Jordan Cronkrite earned honor roll recognition. ….Cronkrite has reached the 100-yard mark in rushing four straight games. The school record is five set by Marlon Mack in 2015 and equaled by Quinton Flowers in 2016….The Bulls are 12-9 in homecoming games and have won three straight, including a 33-3 verdict over Cincinnati last season….Mitchell Wilcox is averaging 3.7 receptions per game to lead all AAC tight ends and rank 11th nationally.

SHARE
Tom Layberger has been a sports writer, reporter and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Comcast, NBC and The Topps Company. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and globalsportmatters.com. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a USF grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.