TAMPA — That monotonous flash you might have seen in the dusky central Tampa sky Saturday was the emergency lights deployed by USF's crestfallen fan base.
This bus ride appears bound for infamy, even as coach Willie Taggart tries to steer his team's collective trust toward his staff and its scheme.
On a day when USF had hoped to reveal a semblance of forward progress against a ranked foe, the Bulls (0-4) instead watched Miami's bench and its own student section empty shortly after halftime.
Standing toe-to-toe with USF in self-destructiveness, the No. 15 Hurricanes nonetheless built a 28-point first-half lead and scored 42 consecutive points en route to a 49-21 romp before an announced Raymond James Stadium crowd of 47,562.
The metaphorical postmortem: A slow-moving USF shuttle bus crashing into a partly open metal garage gate upon exiting Raymond James Stadium.
"Very discouraging," Bulls senior safety Mark Joyce said. "We all came out here, we worked hard … two weeks straight and to come out here and do this is very, very disappointing."
By the end, Miami seemingly had more points remaining on the field than USF had spectators in the seats. Twice in the second period, 'Canes sophomore Duke Johnson lost fumbles inside the Bulls 5, and had his 100-yard kick return in the first quarter negated by a holding call.
"That's unacceptable," 'Canes coach Al Golden said. "You don't reach the ball over the goal line. … (Johnson) knows that."
Yet Miami still led 35-7 at intermission, as the Bulls secondary consistently allowed receivers behind them. The 'Canes' QB tandem of Stephen Morris and Ryan Williams had four completions of more than 30 yards in the first half alone.
"Going onto the field, we told 'em, 'Hey, here comes the deep pass, watch it,' " Taggart said. "And then we still let them get behind. That's the frustrating part. … Our guys knew it and didn't trust it."
Meantime, the Bulls offense — despite a promising start — again lent to its own demise.
Behind first-time starter Steven Bench, USF answered the 'Canes' opening scoring drive with a five-play, 75-yard scoring march, capped by Marcus Shaw's 3-yard TD run. Shaw (20 carries, 127 yards) had his third 100-yard effort of the season.
But the offense didn't score again until Bench's 16-yard TD to Derrick Hopkins with two seconds to play. In between, Bench (13-for-27, 189 yards, one TD, one INT) was sacked five times, once in his own end zone for Miami's fourth TD when he fumbled.
"The play call didn't work. That's between me and Coach Taggart," Bench said.
"He did some good things, but he's got to learn to throw the ball on time and throw the ball away," said Taggart, adding Bench is his starter entering American Athletic Conference play next weekend against Cincinnati.
"He's such a competitive kid and he really wants to be the guy that turns these guys around, and sometimes he tries to make plays that he can't make."
By contrast, Williams — a junior on standby as Morris played with a tender ankle — finished 8-for-14 for 153 yards. Morris exited after throwing for 222 yards and two TDs in roughly 20 minutes of work.
Several other 'Canes starters had joined him on the sideline when USF scored twice in the final quarter, including defensive lineman Julius Forte's 11-yard interception return of a batted pass thrown by former Countryside High star Gray Crow.
"I told our guys if we don't do anything else, let's win this fourth quarter," Taggart said. "Our guys kept playing and to me, that's progress, because in the past we didn't keep playing."