|No. 23 USF not looking past Tulsa|
Talk about a team playing angry.
Look no further than South Florida on Nov. 4, when the Bulls went into East Hartford, Conn., and behind quarterback Quinton Flowers' career day, bounced back from a startling loss to Houston the week before.
Flowers threw for 385 yards and three touchdowns and tacked on 131 yards on the ground in the 37-20 win. Flowers set a school record for total yards and lifted the hopes of the entire program one week after coach Charlie Strong told the Tampa Bay Tribune, "I've never seen a program so down."
But after watching everything go wrong against the Cougars in their first loss of the season, Strong reminded his squad that it controled its own destiny. Win the American Athletic Conference title, defeat Central Florida the day after Thanksgiving and most likely earn a New Year's Six bowl bid.
Just take care of the business at hand.
And that the Bulls did against Connecticut.
With a week to reflect, recharge and get ready for Tulsa, Strong is making sure the No. 23 Bulls don't get overconfident as they prepare for Thursday night's game against the Golden Hurricanes (2-8) at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Strong's task is complicated by rumors that the Bulls' first-year coach is a leading candidate to take the head coaching job at Florida. Strong has addressed the question and did not close the door on replacing Jim McElwain.
"My focus is here, it's the only job I'm concerned about right now," Strong told the Clarion Ledger, adding if Florida was interested in him, "I'd have to sit down and have a discussion with (USF athletic director Mark Harlan)."
The Golden Hurricanes have lost seven of eight, most recently to Memphis. Perhaps there's been no team that has seen so many victories slip through its hands as Tulsa.
"I think we have a better football team than what our record shows," coach Philip Montgomery told the Tulsa World. "We've lost four really, really close games, three of those decided on the last play of the game.
"Honestly, (against SMU), we had opportunities late to win it when we led the majority of the game and we didn't finish it. ... There's a lot of instances, in my opinion, this year that were that one thing, that one play away from this thing being a totally different season."
Montgomery had high hopes coming off a 10-win season in 2016. Along the way, there have been physical challenges and the emotional roller coaster of losing.
"We have a lot of guys who have been around this program for a while, who have been through the ups and downs," offensive lineman Willie Wright told the Tulsa World. "We just have to continue fighting for those guys and continue pushing momentum into next year and finish the season the right way."
Tulsa has an extra week to prepare for the Bulls.
"It's been pretty challenging," defensive end Jesse Brubaker said. "Obviously, football is not very easy on your body, so you have a lot of bumps and bruises that come with playing week-in and week-out."
The late bye week wasn't lost on Montgomery, either.
"We added it up the other day: If you take practice and class and all of those things, they've only had three days off since August," Montgomery said. "(Three days) that they didn't have class, football or anything."
And playing on the road on Thursday night is like not even have a bye week, Montgomery lamented.
With no chance to extend their season, the Golden Hurricane could salvage their season with an upset of the Bulls.
And they do have the wherewithal to accomplish the feat -- crazier things have happened this season.
Tulsa's rushing attack ranks 15th in the country, averaging 248.7 yards per game. The Golden Hurricane 1-2 punch of D'Angelo Brewer and Shamari Brooks has accounted for 18 touchdowns on the ground. Brewer has recorded 1,099 yards and Brooks 687 yards rushing.
South Florida counters with the seventh-ranked rushing attack, which is led by Darius Tice (780 yards, nine touchdowns), Flowers (751 yards, nine TDs) and D'Ernest Johnson (631 yards, seven TDs).
The big differences between the teams are on defense and under center.
Flowers has thrown for 1,955 yards and 15 touchdowns against only four interceptions.
And the Bulls' defense is stout, giving up only 19.9 points per game -- 23rd-best in the nation.
The Golden Hurricane allow an average of 38 points.