USF Looks To Get Going Against Georgia Tech

South Florida offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

USF and Georgia Tech lost their openers by a combined 87 points. The fact the former played top-20 Wisconsin and the latter No. 1 Clemson did make the defeats any easier to swallow.

In both instances it was clear where the most glaring problems occurred and that was on the offensive side of scrimmage.

The Bulls’ new-look attack did not cross midfield, forget rip off any big gainers, until their final possession when Jordan McCloud came on with the score 49-0, which was the final.

Alas, there was plenty of blame to go around. 

“All three phases from the offensive side to the defensive side to the kicking game, everybody had their share of it,” said coach Charlie Strong, whose team has lost seven straight.

There was much anticipation in how new coordinator Kerwin Bell’s offense was going to perform last Friday night. After nine first downs and 157 yards everybody was left wondering what had happened, or didn’t happen.

“This system is a little different from what everybody runs in college football,” said Bell, who took blame for his unit’s woes. “It is more pro-style, a lot of thinking, a lot of running through progressions and receivers sort of changing their routes on the run. So, it takes a little bit of time. But I have incorporated this thing three or four times now with (different) teams. We will handle it and get up to speed. We just need some success with it.”

Success could come with Johnny Ford in the lineup. While no specific reason was given, the 5-foot-5 slot receiver was held out of the opener. Strong said he will play against the Yellow Jackets.

“Johnny missing the game was big for us,” said Bell. “We had a lot of stuff on him to handle some of their man coverages. He’s a great man-beater and with him being out, it put a lot of extra emphasis on other guys. He really frees up the (offense) because he has so much ability running and catching the football.”

Quarterback Blake Barnett was not sharp, but he was also under a good deal of pressure and a couple of dropped passes early made for an uphill battle.

Key playmakers Jordan Cronkrite and Mitchell Wilcox had no impact last week. Cronkrite had all of nine yards on six carries and Wilcox had a single reception for 11 yards. Those two have to be involved if the offense is to move up and down the field.

“Those are two guys in our offense that have showed they can do it,” said Strong. “Mitch definitely needs to get involved because he is a big piece of our offense. We need to move the chains and get the ball down the field. We don’t need big plays, just drive the football.”

Only one game into the season it is imperative that the Bulls, who defeated Georgia Tech at Raymond James Stadium last September, 49-38, understand there is so much in front of them. As such, they have to turn the page and not carry the Wisconsin debacle with them to Atlanta.

“(The Wisconsin defeat) can’t be a setback for us and we have to make sure it is not a distraction,” said Strong. “We can’t let this game beat us twice. We have to move on.”

Wilcox does not feel like that will be a problem.

“This team is built for adversity and we can deal with it,” he said. “We are going to bounce back. I am sure of it.”

Bulls Notes
Strong said Terrance Horne should see more action this week, but he will not be part of the return unit until he is 100 percent back from his torn ACL. Against the Yellow Jackets last season Horne scored on consecutive kick returns covering 98 and 97 yards in the opening quarter…..Against Wisconsin, Oklahoma State transfer and linebacker Patrick Macon had game highs with 15 tackles and four tackles for loss….The Bulls are 8-10 all-time against teams from the ACC….Saturday will mark USF’s second game in Georgia. The first visit to the Peach State was in 1997 when they lost at Georgia Southern, 28-23.

Yellow Jackets Notes
A familiar face will be on the Georgia Tech sideline in the person of Geoff Collins, who coached Temple the last two seasons. He is in the process — and it is a process — of overhauling former coach Paul Johnson’s option-based scheme. Three quarterbacks combined to go 7-of-18 for 137 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a 52-14 loss to Clemson. That’s one more attempt than they had combined for in their careers coming into this season. Sophomore Tobias Oliver is the most experienced of the trio, having played 12 games. He ran for 97 yards and three touchdowns against USF last season, while not attempting a pass. Redshirt junior Lucas Johnson, who was 0-for-2 against Clemson, is regarded as the most polished passer….The Yellow Jackets are 95-25-4 in home openers. Saturday will mark only the eighth time since 1998 that they have a home opener against an FBS opponent.

Tom is also a contributing sports writer to forbes.com and globalsportmatters.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Tom Layberger has been a sports writer, reporter and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Comcast, NBC and The Topps Company. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and globalsportmatters.com. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a USF grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.