It took No. 19 South Florida a full quarter to wake up and take control in the Bulls’ season opener at San Jose State. They should be in better position to avoid the same fate Saturday in their home opener against FCS foe Stony Brook.
The Bulls (1-0) trailed San Jose State 16-0 on Saturday before scoring 28 in the second quarter on the way to an easy 42-22 win. First-year coach Charlie Strong was pleased to see his team handle the early adversity without any panic, learning a lesson in a win.
“Everything can be corrected,” Strong said. “You always look for a big improvement from Game 1 to Game 2, which we should have. When your team feels like they haven’t played well, then you know you’re making strides and moving the program.
“I’m kind of glad that some of the guys didn’t play well, so now we can go and correct it and you can really push them this week in practice.”
USF lost top running back Marlon Mack, now with the Colts, but its offense has a potent leader in quarterback Quinton Flowers, who led the Bulls to an 11-2 record last year before Willie Taggart left to coach at Oregon.
Flowers passed for 212 yards and two touchdowns against San Jose State, with two running backs playing well — D’Ernest Johnson went for 99 yards and two scores, and Darius Tice ran for 94 and one touchdown. USF posted 548 total yards, despite going 3-for-19 on third downs and having only 22 yards at the end of the first period.
Stony Brook had its first-ever game against an FBS opponent when the Seawolves played at USF in 2010, losing 59-14 after briefly leading early. They’ve given several FBS schools a scare in recent years — they lost 26-23 in five overtimes to Buffalo in 2013, and lost 19-16 to Connecticut in 2014. They weren’t as fortunate last year, losing 38-0 to Temple as part of a 5-6 season.
“When you end with a loss, you can’t wait to get back on the field,” coach Chuck Priore said of a rivalry loss to Albany, in an interview on the school’s official site.
Playing FBS schools is a paycheck for an FCS program like Stony Brook, so while it’s sometimes a lopsided loss, it’s huge in helping keep an ambitious athletic budget.
“You want to be playing these games,” Priore said. “It’s important for recruiting, and obviously there’s a financial part of it. It gives us an idea of where we are as a program.”
Strong can take a lesson from Taggart and not take a lesser opponent lightly — Taggart’s first game in 2013 saw the Bulls humbled 53-21 by FCS McNeese State.
The Seawolves have a large senior class, led by tackle Timon Parris, who has been named to preseason FCS All-America lists. The top returning rusher is senior Stacey Bedell, who went for 698 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, and joining them on the preseason all-conference team was junior linebacker Shayne Lawless, who had 78 tackles last season, including nine for loss.
Junior quarterback Joe Carbone started nine games for Stony Brook last season, passing for 1,017 yards in an offense that ran the ball twice as much as it threw it. He will be backed up by redshirt freshman Tyquell Fields.
“Joe has done a nice job,” Priore said.
“He had a good year last year and obviously knows he has to get better. In the offseason and through the preseason, he has. Tyquell will probably play in games. He’s a special athlete who’s learning the position.”
USF has aspirations of running the table this year with an undefeated regular season, but a weak overall schedule could still keep them from making a four-team playoff at 12-0. That means they need resounding wins whenever possible, especially when facing an FCS opponent like Stony Brook.
The Bulls open conference play a week later at Connecticut, then face Illinois on Friday, Sept. 15, and Temple on Thursday, Sept. 21. If there’s momentum to be built from last season’s success in Strong’s first year, it has to start now, and convincingly, to build a strong home attendance at Raymond James Stadium.