After being on the road for three of the last four games, South Florida coach Charlie Strong is looking forward to getting back to Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium for Saturday’s American Athletic Conference East Division matchup with Connecticut.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. ET on the CBS Sports Network.
“We’re not going to get to come home that much,” said Strong, whose team is back on the road after this one for three of its next four games. “Homecoming with Connecticut is going to be big for us.”
Perhaps being before a home crowd will help jumpstart the No. 21 Bulls (6-0, 2-0 AAC). Despite being one of eight undefeated teams, the Bulls have notoriously stumbled out of the gate.
They have been outscored 49-48 in the first quarter and have trailed at the end of it in four of their six outings. They led FCS foe Elon only 7-0 after the first quarter in their opener.
Last week against one-win Tulsa the Bulls trailed 24-10 after three quarters before rallying for the 25-24 victory, the third time they have overcome a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. For the season, the Bulls have outscored their opponents 74-28 in the final period.
Quarterback Blake Barnett struggled for much of the night but rushed for two touchdowns in the final nine minutes and completed a big pass to wide receiver Tyree McCants to set up Coby Weiss’ 22-yard field goal with two seconds left for the deciding points.
“A lot of times when you get in close games, guys tighten up,” Strong said. “It’s like these guys get loose and then they start playing.”
Like Tulsa, UConn also comes into the game with only one victory, that 56-49 over Rhode Island, an FCS opponent.
“You can’t worry about their record,” Strong said. “This is a conference game and you’re always going to get their best, and the thing we’ve go to do is to play our best.
“We need to get out, we need to start fast, we need to play well, we’ve got to play with great fundamentals and technique. We just need to get started and get going.”
The Huskies (1-5, 0-3 AAC) in particular have had their issues on defense. They rank last statistically among FBS teams in giving up 658.2 yards per game, yield the most points per game (53.7), and are next-to-last against the rush. Opponents have averaged 322 yards on the ground against UConn’s freshman-dominated defensive unit.
Two things may give them some hope, however slim.
No. 1, quarterback David Pindell is a running and passing threat. He leads the Huskies in rushing with 489 yards (a 5.6-per carry average) and has completed 61.27 percent of his passes for 1,122 yards with nine touchdowns against five interceptions. He ran for 157 and passed for 266 yards in a loss to UCF.
No. 2, the Huskies are coming off an open date.
“We were able during the off week to get some guys healed up a little bit, take care of some of those bumps and bruises and catch our breath a little bit,” coach Randy Edsall said.
But the extra time was not uneventful. Junior linebacker Eli Thomas suffered a stroke prior to a weightlifting session last week. Reports are that Thomas, 22, is progressing nicely but how the UConn players will react emotionally is an X factor.
A junior college transfer, Thomas started the first four games and had sealed the win over Rhode Island with a sack on the game’s final play. He did not play the last two games because of a neck injury.
“Every day, you just never know what can happen,” Edsall said. “Things like this are very unfortunate. It’s one of those things where, you know, take one day at a time and do the very best you can every day because you just never know what can happen.”