Bulls Using Bye Week To Heal Up, Smooth Some Edges

TAMPA – Seemingly in the blink of an eye the season’s opening month is in the books for USF.

No need to apply eyewash, though, as despite all the question marks emerging from preseason the Bulls’ 4-0 record heading into this week’s bye is no mirage even if their performance at times has hardly been, well, a sight for sore eyes.

Indeed, USF’s performance has looked rather uneven at times. However, there is no doubting the team’s fortitude and ability to dial up big plays at key times.

The bye has served as a much-needed break in the action, a time to heal some wounds and smooth rough edges before the schedule resumes next Saturday afternoon at Massachusetts.

The non-conference tilt – the Minutemen (2-3) are in their third season as an independent after leaving the MAC – could serve to cure some ills before resuming American Athletic Conference play at Tulsa on Oct. 6.

“We have a lot of bumps and bruises and we need some time to heal up before getting ready for UMass,” said coach Charlie Strong during Monday’s AAC teleconference.

Anybody among the nearly 27,000 assembled for last Saturday night’s 20-13 win over East Carolina at Raymond James Stadium could see that a lot of things need to be ironed out.

In fact, they saw a lot of things they likely did not care for. Included was a disjointed offense that went three-and-out eight times and quarterback Blake Barnett was sacked six times. The inability to move the chains and use some clock put much pressure on the defense.

“I guess you could say it’s nice that we have a bye week, but at the end of the day things need to get better on the offensive side of the ball,” quarterback Blake Barnett said after the ECU game, the third straight the Bulls trailed or were tied heading into the fourth quarter. “We have to come out better from the very beginning. We have to be consistent, do our jobs and execute the way we need to so it (doesn’t have to come down to the fourth quarter).”

Khalid McGee, who added a little meat to what is now a 210-pound frame helping him transition from safety to linebacker, was in the middle of a defense that was on the field for 96 plays against ECU. As such, who could blame him for wearing a path to the trainer’s room?

“Everybody has a lot of nicks and bruises, so it’s a good week (to have off),” said the senior, whose banged up a shoulder will not hold him back. “I am going to be in the training room all week, as I have been.”

McGee, who leads the conference with an average of 10.5 tackles per game, would like to see the unit address some details before traveling to New England.

“We were getting good push, but guys were coming out of their gaps,” he said of one of the areas that needed attention coming out of last week’s game. “Small things like that we can fix. I think we have played well, but we have a lot of room for improvement. We have showed our character so far, bending and not breaking.”

There has been plenty of that, especially the last three games. The hope is that starting next week both the offense and defense can both find a rhythm while doing each other some favors in the process.

Scholarly Achievement: Senior safety Jaymon Thomas was named a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, which is awarded to the player judged to be college football’s top scholar-athlete.

Thomas, a health sciences major (3.5 GPA) who has lent much of his time to community causes such as the Boys & Girls Club of Tampa, is a three-time academic all-conference selection.

Thomas, who is from Immokalee, is fourth on the Bulls with 25 tackles.

Tom Layberger has been a sports writer and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Beckett Publishing, The Topps Company and Comcast. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a University of South Florida grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.