No. 23 USF focused on Tulsa, not looking ahead
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Charlie Strong’s message to No. 23 South Florida is short and sweet: Don’t get caught looking past Tulsa.
The Bulls (8-1, 5-1) have never won a conference title and need to beat the Golden Hurricane in a nationally televised matchup Thursday night to remain on course for a showdown against unbeaten UCF for the American’s Eastern Division championship.
USF visits the 14th-ranked Golden Knights next week, when a berth in the league title game could be on the line.
“We know Tulsa is going to be a really good opponent for us. The thing we can’t do is look ahead. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time,” Strong said.
“I told them it’s a single-game elimination now,” the coach added. “Each game is a championship game and we’ve just got to be ready and be prepared to go play.”
The Bulls rebounded from the only loss with a rout of Connecticut two weeks ago. They used the team’s third open date of the season to focus on fundamentals and get ready for Tulsa (2-8, 1-5), which has lost three straight.
Strong shouldn’t have had much difficulty keeping his team’s attention.
Tulsa’s lone conference victory came against Houston, the team that upset USF and temporarily knocked the Bulls out of the Top 25 three weeks ago.
“We went into the season knowing we had to play well week-in and week-out,” Strong said. “Now we’re sitting here at 8-1, and we know this is a big game for us. It’s at home, it’s senior night and it’s a good way for us to send our seniors out the right way.”
Tulsa is coming off a 27-point loss to AAC West Division leader Memphis. The Golden Hurricane is a mostly young team hoping to use remaining games against USF and Temple to finish on a high note.
“The great thing about our guys in they’ve been resilient,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said.
The objective the rest of the way is “just to continue to progress at a good rate,” he added. “You don’t want to take any steps back.”
Montgomery called USF perhaps the most talented team in the American.
“They’ve got weapons everywhere,” the coach said of the Bulls’ explosive offense, led by dual-threat quarterback Quinton Flowers, who’s thrown for 1,955 yards and 15 touchdowns, while also rushing for 751 yards and nine TDs.
Some things to know about the Bulls and Golden Hurricane:
USF will recognize 23 seniors, who have a chance to become the winningest class in school history. The current group has 31 victories, with up to four more opportunities to add to that total if the Bulls wind up in the AAC championship game. The school record is 34 for the class that had 34 wins from 2006-09.
“Walking out on that field, and getting the applause from everybody, knowing that you gave this city something to talk about again — this is the reason you came here, to do things like that,” Flowers said.
“I don’t know what emotions I’ll have. I don’t know if I’m going to cry, or what I’m going to do,” the quarterback said. “At the end of the day, my goal was to come to this school and give the city of Tampa something to talk about when they go around town.”
STOP THE SKID
Tulsa has dropped three in a row, falling to UConn, SMU and Memphis, since beating Houston 45-17 on Oct. 14. Two weeks later, Houston upset USF in Tampa, scoring in the closing seconds for a 28-24 victory.
Montgomery welcomes the exposure playing on national television will give the Golden Hurricane.
“It helps if you win it,” the coach said. “You’ve got to go win.”
NOT A ONE-MAN SHOW
Flowers is one of seven players in NCAA FBS history with 7,000 career passing yards, in addition to 3,000 career rushing yards. He’s the catalyst for USF’s success, but hardly their only playmakers. RBs Darius Tice (780 yards rushing, nine TDs) and D’Ernest Johnson (631 yards, seven TDs) form a dynamic tandem, and WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling is on pace to break the school’s single-season record for receiving yards with 44 receptions for 720 yards and five TDs.