USF football is growing under Alex Golesh. Bulls’ next step: maturity

Jefferee Woo/Tampa Bay Times/TNS

TAMPA — When USF coach Alex Golesh reviewed Saturday’s win over Temple, he saw obvious signs of a program growing up. You probably did, too. The Bulls used a fast start to beat an Owls team that crushed them by 26 points last year. USF’s fifth victory of the season surpasses its total over the previous three years combined (four) and put the Bulls one win away from bowl eligibility.

Dig deeper, as Golesh did, and you see a team that’s still young — not in age, necessarily, but in the type of collective experience that can elevate a program to the next level.

“I used the word immaturity, because I do feel like we’re still really immature as a team,” Golesh said this week. “I think we’ve taken monumental steps and we’ve grown so much. But obviously on Saturday, we still weren’t there to be able to just go do it.”

Specifically, Golesh wants his Bulls to find a way to put away games in a way they didn’t last week at Raymond James Stadium.

One opportunity came late in the third quarter when Armwood High alumnus Aamaris Brown snagged an interception in Bulls territory. By thwarting a potential scoring drive, USF seized momentum, preserved a 17-point lead and took over with solid field position at its 32. It’s the type of scenario that can lead to a backbreaking score, a jubilant sideline and a runaway victory.

The Bulls’ next three plays: a stuffed run, a deep passing attempt that went out of bounds and a Byrum Brown scramble that resulted in a fumble (which USF recovered).

There were other missed opportunities, too, that could have iced the game, if not for what Golesh deemed immaturity — things like not understanding why the offense would take a deep shot to try to put the game out of reach or why the defense would blitz on first down to create havoc.

“It’s not really the play call,” Golesh said. “It’s not really the guy you’re throwing it to. It’s not the quarterback. It truly is a combination of all of that — the ability to just take a breath and say, ‘Man, it doesn’t really matter what the score is. We’re going to go knock somebody out.’”

That, seemingly, is a trait USF will see on the other sidelines Friday at Texas-San Antonio, an AAC contender under coach Jeff Traylor. His Roadrunners are 30-8 since the start of his second season and undefeated in AAC play after jumping from Conference USA. You don’t have that kind of success without the type of maturity that can’t be rushed.

Golesh pointed out that Traylor is in Year 4 in San Antonio. A recent USF opponent, Memphis, is 8-2 in Ryan Silverfield’s fourth season. The state’s best team, No. 4 Florida State, is in its fourth year under Mike Norvell.

There are practical reasons why those programs have clicked — established quarterbacks, for example — but Golesh said teams really grow up in January-March with offseason workouts, when leaders emerge, toughness is forged and players build on- and off-field chemistry with their teammates.

“You’re growing scabs over wounds,” Golesh said. “You’re truly growing that program from the inside out.”

Golesh’s vision of long-term growth should not minimize the short-term progress his team has made. The Temple game gave him flashbacks to Week 1 against Western Kentucky. In both cases, the Bulls scored in the first four minutes and led 17-7 early in the second quarter. USF faded against the Hilltoppers in a 17-point loss but held on against the Owls.

“Now the difference is, we were able to go finish the game (against Temple) but still aren’t able to go land a knockout punch,” Golesh said. “Eventually in this program, we will.”

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