TAMPA — Who would have thought there would be so much intrigue heading into South Carolina State?
It is not so much the 0-2 start, but how the Bulls lost to Wisconsin and Georgia Tech.
The numbers do not lie and they are far from pretty. There is the 2.2 yards per rush attempt, the 3.8 yards per play and 18 penalties for 140 yards. What matters most is that the Bulls have scored all of 10 points and did not find the end zone until this much-anticipated 2019 season was into its eighth quarter.
“When you don’t control the line of scrimmage, when you have penalties, when you have missed assignments and you don’t tackle well, those things are the reason why you lose football games,” said coach Charlie Strong, on Monday.
The Bulls have lost eight straight games after starting the 2018 campaign 7-0, a seven-game stretch sprinkled with fool’s gold as their six FBS opponents went on to record a combined 22 wins. Nonetheless, USF was winning.
Now, with losses piling up, the hot topic leading into the South Carolina State matchup is which quarterback will be given the chance to end the skid Saturday night (6 p.m.) at Raymond James Stadium.
Blake Barnett has done many good things at USF and he received precious little help the first two weeks. That said, redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud (7-of-8, 112 yards, 1 TD in the two games) provided a dose of energy in the second half against Georgia Tech. Hence, a quarterback battle commenced outside the Selmon Athletics Center early this week.
“We know this, Blake has played a lot of football around here and Jordan played really well when he got into the (Georgia Tech) game,” said Strong. “Let those two guys go at it. Whoever plays well with their opportunities this week at practice, we’ll go into the game and we’ll put the right guy out there.”
By the conclusion of Wednesday’s practice, Barnett and McCloud responded the way one would hope.
“They both accepted the challenge,” said offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell. “They are both playing really well in practice. Jordan is really pushing Blake and Blake has really picked up his game this week in practice.”
There is no timetable for naming the starter. It could be announced by the time you read this or it may not be known until game time.
Meanwhile, on the other side of scrimmage, the defense showed marked improvement against Georgia Tech. True, it was against an offense transitioning to one that is more conventional after running the option for 11 years. Still, the defense had a nice showing at Bobby Dodd Stadium in limiting the Yellow Jackets to 257 yards.
Not that anybody is celebrating.
“I would say we played a lot better than we did against Wisconsin, but what (coordinator Brian Jean-Mary) preaches is not about the numbers and stats,” said lineman Darius Slade. “We had the opportunity to win the game defensively, but we didn’t do that.”
The hope is both units can play off one another against South Carolina State, which plays at the FCS level. SCSU went 5-6 a year ago, including 4-3 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which is comprised of 10 historically African-American institutions.
The Bulldogs opened the season by stunning FCS preseason No. 8 Wofford, 28-13. Last week they rolled over Division-II Lane College, 34-0, and the nice start resulted in coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough’s team receiving the second-most votes among teams outside the FCS top 25.
Regardless of the opponent, this is a game in which the Bulls must find some answers before conference play gets underway in two weeks.
“We are doing our best job of keeping everybody together on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side,” said running back Jordan Cronkrite. “We have no reason to have our head down despite being 0-2. We still go out there with confidence.”
The eight-game losing streak is the longest in program history. The streak started with a 57-36 setback at Houston last October 27. USF is averaging 13.5 points in the seven losses since. In that seven-game stretch Jordan Cronkrite has rushed for more than 36 yards once….Last week tight end Mitchell Wilcox became the 14th player in team history to reach 1,000-career receiving yards….Trent Schneider averaged a school record 51.6 yards on seven punts at Georgia Tech….The Bulls are averaging 12.0 tackles for loss to rank third nationally. Linebacker Patrick Macon leads with 5.0 and linemen Kirk Livingstone and Kevin Kegler each have 3.5….The Bulls have a bye next week before opening conference play against visiting SMU on September 28….Charlie Strong and SCSU head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough were assistants at South Carolina under Lou Holtz.
Pough is in his 18th season as head coach at SCSU….Quarterback Tyrece Nix is more of a threat running, but can still get big chunks of yards downfield. The redshirt junior passed for 201 yards and ran for 40 in the win over Wofford. Nix, who sat out last week against DII Lane College, completed 45 percent of his passes for 1,165 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 903 yards and 12 TDs last season….Redshirt freshman Corey Fields got the start at QB last week…..In two games senior linebacker Johnell Brown has 13 tackles, including two sacks. He also has an interception and a fumble recovery…..The Bulldogs havea recent history against American Conference teams having played at UCF last season and in 2016, losing both times 38-0.
Billy Attebury moves back to left tackle and Donovan Jennings to right guard
We all have to come together and let’s go out there and play a real good football game. Gain som econfidence, hopefully, and let’s go get this thing going. We just have to play at alot higher level. Play faster,play freer, dom’t think so much. The plays are there. When you watch the film the plays are there it’s just that we are not executing very well.
I am not afraid to make that change. I know everybody has their own thoughts and we are going to put the right guy out there.
It comes back to just evaluation and we are going through that process right now. We know this, Blake has played a lot of football around here and Jordan played really well when he got into the (Georgia Tech) game. We got a chance to see him now, so we can go back and assess and see what we need to do and turn it into a competition. Let those two guys go at it and just see who comes out and whoever plays well with their opportunities this week at practice we’ll go into the game and we’ll put the right guy out there.
I would say we played a lot better than we did against Wisconsin, but coach BJ, what he preaches is not about the numbers and stats. We had the opportunity to win the game defensively, but we didn’t do that.
It’s on everybody. It’s on me as well. We just have execute better. It’s start with practice and we have apply that to field.
We had a bad game in the running game and we all have our fair share of the blame, so the good thing about is that we all stick together regardless of the outcome.
that’s on me. I need to do better with ball security.