TAMPA – With a number of Bulls dressed in shorts and hoodies instead of helmets and pads during pregame warmup, taking inventory became necessary in finding out who was actually going to be in the lineup Saturday against visiting Tulane.
The depth chart would prove to be the least of the Bulls’ problems, though, on what was an otherwise beautiful late afternoon and early evening at Raymond James Stadium.
An offense that sputtered and a defense missing four starters that was repeatedly pummeled by Tulane’s running game made for a very frustrating 41-15 loss to the Green Wave.
It was a performance that coach Charlie Strong said he saw coming in practice on Thursday and again during Saturday’ pregame warmup.
“For us to come out and play the way we played, it’s on the coaches,” he said. “I told the players that Thursday I saw it coming. Then even today in the pregame warmup I saw it coming. I said we are not ready to play and we are not focused. It’s the little things that will catch up with you. When you’re not a very mature football team and you don’t have much leadership, those things will always catch up with you.”
Redshirt junior receiver Stanley Clerveaux said he saw it coming as well. The team’s focus wasn’t on their opponent Saturday, but instead it was on Cincinnati next week.
“We took Tulane for granted,” he said, while noting the team has been going through the motions during practice. “We said, ‘Alright, they’re (3-5 coming in). Yeah, we’re going to beat them. Let’s get ready for Cincinnati.’”
When there is a lack of focus there is usually a lack of effort. When asked if his team played hard throughout the game Strong simply said, “Oh, no. We didn’t play hard at all.”
Even with proper focus and attention on the Green Wave it might have been a tough day anyway.
Missing from the USF (7-2/3-2 AAC) defense due to injuries or disciplinary reasons were linebackers Khalid McGee and Nico Sawtelle, tackle Kevin Kegler and safety Mekhi LaPointe. McGee, who the cameras caught shoving defensive assistant Blue Adams last week at Houston, was likely held out for that reason.
On the other side of scrimmage, tight end Mitchell Wilcox and receiver Randall St. Felix were out due to injury.
Make no mistake, though, the Bulls’ problems went way beyond who was dressed or not. The offense was a disjointed unit before showing signs of life after the outcome was well decided, the defense was gashed repeatedly by Tulane’s run game that often went untouched up the middle, and there were problems on special teams.
Believe it or not, things looked pretty good early. After Tulane missed a field goal on the game’s opening possession, the Bulls took over on their own 25. From there quarterback Blake Barnett, who played hard to the final whistle, led the Bulls deep into Tulane territory thanks in large part to his career-long 39-yard run.
The Bulls had to settle for a 27-yard Coby Weiss field goal instead of punching it into the end zone.
“I think that first drive, we needed to score (a touchdown) in the red zone,” said Barnett, who totaled 391 yards, including 332 through the air. “That would have given us good momentum at the start. From that point on it was details, a lot of things we should have done better.”
After the Bulls took the 3-0 lead Tulane (4-5/3-2) ripped off 34 unanswered points on the strength of a running game that tore through the heart of the USF defense time and again to the tune of 368 yards. The exclamation point was Darius Bradwell’s 73-yard TD run, in which he went untouched through the middle, with 3:48 left in the third quarter to make the score 34-3.
Johnny Ford’s five-yard TD run with 45 seconds remaining in the third quarter put an end to a stretch of three-plus quarters, including the fourth quarter at Houston, in which the Bulls were outscored 48-3.
USF has dropped consecutive games for the first time since September 2015 when they lost three straight to Maryland, Florida State and Memphis….The Bulls’ streak of 38 games of scoring at least 20 points came to an end. They compiled at least 400 yards (437) for the 18th time in the last 19 games….Tyre McCants caught nine passed for 85 yards. He is now fourth all-time in program history 119 career receptions and he moved into third with 1,777 yards….Stanley Clerveaux established career highs with five receptions and 50 yards….With Nico Sawtelle (shoulder) missing his third straight game Greg Reaves got the start again at linebacker….The Bulls’ final three regular season games are next week at Cincinnati, Nov. 17 at Temple and Nov. 23 at home against UCF.