TAMPA — The Bulls had their chances early and often.
Alas, they could not take advantage of prime field position or a lengthy drive in what turned out to be a 42-13 loss to Tulsa at Raymond James Stadium on Friday night.
On consecutive possessions in the opening quarter they had starting field position at the Tulsa 39 and nine-yard line. They settled for a pair of Jared Sackett field goals.
Noah Johnson, who came on for an ineffective Jordan McCloud on the Bulls’ first possession of the second quarter, led the offense on an 11-play, 71-yard drive only to fumble at the Tulsa six-yard line with 47 seconds left in the half.
Instead of potentially 21 points on those three possessions, the Bulls came away with a meager six and trailed the Golden Hurricane 21-6 at the half.
“I felt like we were not moving the ball on offense and we needed some new energy,” coach Jeff Scott said of making the switch to Johnson, the first of many QB changes on the evening and less than two weeks after tabbing McCloud as the starter. “I thought like Noah had some energy to him and our offense was able to move the ball a little bit. The fumble before the half and (third quarter) pick six really hurt us, but overall I thought Noah came in gave us a spark.”
Johnson got the Bulls (1-5/0-4 AAC) in the end zone on USF’s initial possession of the second half to make it 21-13, though it certainly was not planned that way.
Cade Fortin, in his first action since the Cincinnati game, started the second half and drove the ball down the field. On a third-and-goal from the 11, he scrambled left and was hit by Tulsa safety Kendarin Ray at the four. An injured Fortin took a few seconds to get up and eventually left for the locker room. Johnson returned to the huddle and, on fourth-and-goal from the four, found Bryce Miller for a touchdown to finish off a 10-play, 72-yard drive to make it an eight-point game with 8:43 remaining in the quarter.
Tulsa (2-1/2-0) did not take long to respond. In fact, the Golden Hurricane responded with three touchdowns in 5:05 to take a 42-13 lead. The TDs came on Deneric Prince’s 62-yard run, linebacker Zaven Collins’ 38-yard interception return that Scott referenced, and Corey Taylor’s one-yard run.
“We let that get away from us so quickly,” said Scott.
Tulsa’s Zack Smith, a Baylor transfer, completed 16-of-24 for 233 yards with one TD and one interception. Prince, a Texas A&M transfer, had a career-high 109 yards rushing and two TDs.
The loss was the Bulls’ ninth straight against FBS opponents. The last such victory was last October 26 at East Carolina.
“We really have to get better in every area,” said Scott, whose team has turned the ball over 13 times in four conference games. “It is not just one thing to work on. It is all three phases.”
Actually, a fourth phase will be addressed in the coming bye week: attitude.
As much as Scott praised the team for maintaining focus and energy after falling behind Temple 10-0 early last week, there were some things he did not like Friday night as the scoreboard began to tilt against his team.
“I was disappointed in seeing how some of our players reacted,” he said. “I know they are frustrated, but I really felt like it was the first time all year I saw some guys do some disappointing things. I challenged them after the game and said, ‘Hey, it’s on all of us, coaches and players.’ We have two weeks to get ready for our next game and we need to reexamine and reevaluate what we are doing. The only way we are going to get it corrected is the guys in the locker room, coaches and players.”
The Bulls are off next week before traveling to Memphis on November 7.
McCloud started and was 2-for-7 for eight yards. Johnson played the bulk of the game and completed 18-of-27 for 150 yards, one TD and the pick six….Fortin played one series and was the leading rusher with 39 yards. The running backs combined for 40 yards on 20 carries……Omarion Dollison had a game-high six receptions, one short of his season total coming in….Andrew Mims’ seven tackles led the way…..The Bulls did not have a sack and have only three on the season, all by Antonio Grier….KJ Sails had a career-long 60-yard punt return that set the Bulls up at the Tulsa nine-yard line in the opening quarter.