ORLANDO — Needing a supreme defensive effort Friday night, the University of South Florida Bulls were without two of their senior leaders.
USF played without senior safeties Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins, who were suspended for team rules violations, when the Bulls faced the Central Florida Knights at Bright House Networks Stadium.
The Bulls started Nate Godwin and Hassan Childs, both true freshmen, at the safety positions. Additionally, the Bulls again were without freshman G Dominique Threatt, who missed his second straight game with concussion-like symptoms.
USF coach Willie Taggart said he was disappointed with the forced absence of Joyce and Jenkins. Joyce was the team’s second-leading tackler (53). Joyce and Jenkins have combined for 86 games played and 37 starts.
At the same time, earlier in the week, Taggart expressed confidence in the future of USF’s secondary, which has four true freshmen (Godwin, Childs, Johnny Ward and Lamar Robbins) playing in prominent roles.
“It’s always great to see those young guys making plays and to know you’re going to have them around for a while,’’ Taggart said. “Those young guys go unconscious. They don’t really think about anything. They’re just out there having fun.’’
Bulls senior CB Brandon Salinas predicted great things for USF’s future.
“Sometimes, I just look at them (young secondary players) and sit there smiling,’’ Salinas said. “I wish I had the athleticism some of them have.’’
UCF athletic director Todd Stansbury said he was delighted that the Knights and Bulls were playing for the first time since 2008. As members of the American Athletic Conference, there’s a good chance the UCF-USF game will remain on Thanksgiving weekend (if it doesn’t ultimately shift to a season-opening position, something that AAC commissioner Mike Aresco has contemplated).
“I think this could be a huge rivalry,’’ Stansbury said. “When you look at the demographics of the population between Tampa and Daytona (Beach), our alums pretty much dominate this market. The more we play, the more this rivalry grows.
“The great thing is it’s a natural rivalry. We’re not having to take two schools and trying to create something. I think long term, this can be one of those marquee national rivalries.’’
Defense hangs tough
USF entered Friday night’s game with just nine offensive touchdowns, a national low. For the Bulls defense, which has played well enough to win a half-dozen games, that could be a major point of frustration. But Taggart said the team has remained unified.
“They have been great and I appreciate them so much,’’ Taggart said. “Considering what we’re going through as a football team, we haven’t (become a fractured team due to offensive struggles).
“You don’t change habits overnight and that’s what we’re trying to do in changing this culture. Those things don’t happen overnight. You’ve got to be consistent in what you’re doing. Our guys have had so much change around here, whether it’s coaches or schemes. One reason you see our defense playing so well, our special teams playing so well and our offense not playing so well is the consistency.’’
Salinas said USF’s defensive players aren’t frustrated with the team’s lack of offense.
“The minute we start getting down on them, then it throws our play off. It can look really frustrating, especially from a fan’s point of view. But as a player, I can’t be mad … because we have our own faults.’’
Yes, it’s definitely a rivalry now. Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn and Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer staged the traditional bet before the game. The mayors agreed to wear the jersey of Friday night’s winning team, while flying the team flag over city hall. … UCF billed the game as a “Blackout’’ and urged its fans to wear black garb. But the Knights disdained the black-on-black look, wearing gold jerseys and helmets. USF went with white-on-white and white helmets. … It was the 200th game in USF history and the 400th game in UCF history. … Friday night’s attendance of 45,952 was the eighth-largest in UCF history and the sixth-largest in the history of UCF’s on-campus stadium. … When USF junior PK Marvin Kloss hit a 46-yard field goal with 10:35 remaining in the first quarter, it was the first time the Bulls led in a game since Oct. 12, when they registered a 13-10 victory at Connecticut. … USF junior WR Andre Davis caught a pass in his 29th consecutive game, extending his school record. … With Drexel’s 87-85 triple-overtime men’s basketball victory against Alabama pushing back the NIT Season Tip-Off schedule — with Duke-Arizona to follow — the USF-UCF kickoff time was pushed back to 8:15 p.m. The Bulls and Knights began on ESPNews, then shifted to ESPN when Duke-Arizona was completed. … USF concludes its season next Saturday at Rutgers (5-5, 2-4), where the Bulls haven’t won since 2005. Rutgers, which travels to Connecticut today, will shift to the Big Ten Conference next season.