A few short weeks ago, South Florida (3-6, 2-3) rallied past Tulsa in what would be the largest comeback in program history. Many pointed to the win as a proverbial turning point to the Bulls’ inconsistent season. Now it seems like a distant memory with back to back ugly conference losses including Saturday’s 27-3 home thumping at the hands of Houston (5-3, 3-1).
On a cool windy day, USF’s inability to generate offense, like so many other performances this season, was the critical factor in losing to a Houston squad ranked in the top 20 defensively. Getting the start over Mike White, QB Steven Bench proved ineffective throughout the entire contest, going 12 of 25 for 147 yards and one late interception.
Without star receiver Andre Davis available for the first half, the Bulls saw several drives stall throughout the game, sealing their 24 point loss fate.
“We didn't get the job done, that’s how it went,” Bench said after the game. “It’s hard to get a rhythm if you’re only running 50 plays throughout the entire game. We couldn't stay on the field.” Freshman RB Marlon Mack, now 5th all time in total yards in a single season for USF, only accounted for 48 yards on 13 carries, all of which came in the first half.
On the other side of the football, it was Houston’s ability to pound the rock and convert on several 3rd downs that enabled them to pull away from the Bulls in the 2nd half and eventually clinch their fifth victory of the season. While the elusiveness of QB Greg Ward Jr. kept USF defenders honest, the play of RB’s Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson boosted the Cougars offense.
Jackson ended the day with 73 yards and 2 rushing TDs, but it was Farrow’s slashing ability to keep drives alive and force the Bulls’ defense to stay on the field that’s what made a huge difference. The junior running back finished with 113 yards on 22 carries with one rushing and one receiving TD on the day.
USF’s defense is ranked 99th in the nation in 3rd down stopping percentage and it certainly showed in Saturday’s loss. “It’s always frustrating to keep letting them get first downs on 3rd down conversions,” said safety Jamie Byrd afterwards, who leads the team in tackling.
USF now enters their 2nd bye week of the season before going back on the road the following weekend to face lowly SMU. With several questions to be answered, including the quarterback position, the stated goal of reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2010 looks highly unrealistic at this point. It remains to be seen how Coach Taggart's crew responds with three games left on the year.