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AAC: Strong commends performance by Pirates

E Carolina South Florida Football-10

South Florida running back Jordan Cronkrite (2) runs the ball while being pursued by East Carolina defensive back Nolan Johnson (20) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 in Tampa, Fla. (Octavio Jones/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

If Charlie Strong was surprised by his South Florida football team’s close call against East Carolina on Saturday night, he was not letting it show Monday.

In fact, the coach said his 4-0 Bulls were very happy to still have a zero on the other side of their record after gutting out a 20-13 win in Tampa.

“It was tight the whole game, and we were able to hit a long run (by Jordan Cronkrite) there in the fourth quarter, but give coach (Scottie) Montgomery a lot of credit for having his team prepared,” Strong said during the weekly American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference. “He had them ready to go, but that’s what you expect in this conference, for teams to come in with a good game plan and get the players to execute the game plan.”

As the 1-2 Pirates regrouped and addressed the status of key injured players like quarterback Reid Herring and cornerback Colby Gore in the wake of the loss, Strong and his team were relishing have its bye week following the win over ECU.

But Strong knew there was more at play than just football. He knew the Pirates had spent more than a week in Florida because of Hurricane Florence’s approach and long stay in the Carolinas.

“I know that they have been going through a lot because of the hurricane,” Strong said of the Pirates, who now must play host to Old Dominion in the aftermath of the Monarchs’ monster upset of Virginia Tech. “They had to leave their home and go relocate somewhere else, which is really tough because when you think about the players on the team, they don’t really know what’s going on. What Scottie did by taking them away (to Orlando), I think it really helped them out and got them focused, and that’s why they were able to come in here and play so well.”

Strong said he knows the Pirates look at the game as a missed opportunity in a close game.

Bright Sunshine

One of the marquee games on last week’s docket was between two of Florida’s non-traditional rising stars in Central Florida — still unbeaten dating back to the 2016 season — and a Florida Atlantic team coached by Lane Kiffin.

The Knights won 56-36, keeping UCF (3-0) as an unbeaten American team along with 4-0 squads USF and Cincinnati.

One constant in the Knights’ dominance has been quarterback McKenzie Milton, who entered the year already on the minds of many as a potential Heisman candidate at season’s end.

“He’s absolutely worthy of that discussion,” first-year UCF coach Josh Heupel said. “Look at the way he played a year ago and what he’s doing this year. He’s extremely smart, and he’s able to use his feet to extend and make plays in the run game or throw on scrambles down the field. I’ve worked with a couple of Heisman-caliber guys and this guy’s a special player.”

Football gambling

SMU won a cliffhanger against Navy, 31-30 in overtime, to give coach Sonny Dykes his first win with the Mustangs and surprisingly vault them into first place as the only 1-0 team in the West Division.

The initial victory came on the heels of setbacks against North Texas, TCU and Michigan. For a veteran coach like Dykes, even one win can make a big difference, and perhaps that is why he chose to go for a two-point conversion in OT to upend the Midshipmen.

“Playing in overtime, you’re at a significant disadvantage with that style of play,” Dykes said of playing a full game against Navy’s option attack, which comes with lots of below-the-waist cut blocks, and of trying to end the game as soon as possible. “So when we scored, I felt like it was important for us at that stage to try to win the game. We had a (pass) play that we felt good about, a play that we had been practicing since the beginning of fall camp.” 

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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ECU

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