TAMPA — It doesn't seem to matter who is at quarterback for USF — the turnovers at that position returned for defensive touchdowns continue to be a huge reason the Bulls are 0-3 for the first time.
Three QB turnovers led to 21 Florida Atlantic points— including two defensive touchdowns, making it five in three games against the Bulls — and the Owls, who had lost 14 in a row to major-conference programs, got their first win against USF, 28-10 Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.
"I've never been a part of something like this," coach Willie Taggart said. "It's frustrating. Not only are you turning the ball over, you're turning it over for points. … You're not going to win ballgames when you do that. It's frustrating to continue to see it three weeks in a row. Guys have to take care of the football, point blank."
In the first quarter, starting quarterback Bobby Eveld was blindsided by a teammate, as running back Marcus Shaw knocked the ball loose, and defensive lineman Cory Henry returned it 10 yards for a score. Eveld was replaced by Penn State transfer Steven Bench, who sparked two scoring drives, then had a fumble of his own, leading to an FAU touchdown in the third quarter, then an interception returned 75 yards for the final score.
"Turnovers kill an offense, and hurt a defense, too," said Bench, who threw for a TD but finished 8-for-23 for 128 yards. "They put everyone in a bad situation. Of course, we've turned the ball over too much. I turned the ball over tonight. It's on everybody. We have to get it corrected, or it's not going to turn around."
Three games into the Taggart era, USF has no better idea who its quarterback is, with three passers throwing interceptions returned for touchdowns. The 10 points actually matched the Bulls' high in five games against I-A teams since B.J. Daniels' college career ended in November 2012.
Shortly after Eveld's fumble, Bench entered and handed off to running back Marcus Shaw for a 44-yard gain. The Bulls got a 50-yard field goal from Marvin Kloss, then an interception from linebacker DeDe Lattimore to set them up at the FAU 26. Two plays later, Bench found walk-on fullback Ryan Eppes on third and 9 for a 25-yard touchdown and a 10-7 lead.
On the next drive Shaw (a career-best 153 yards) had a 41-yard run, but the Bulls stalled at the goal line. Shaw was stopped at the 1 twice, then Taggart went for it on fourth and goal and called a sweep to Shaw, who was dropped for a 6-yard loss.
Just before halftime, FAU drove 80 yards to take the lead, helped by a questionable personal-foul penalty on defensive tackle Elkino Watson on what would have set up a fourth down. USF stopped FAU twice inside the 10, but quarterback Jaquez Johnson's 4-yard keeper for a TD gave the Owls a 14-10 lead with 35 seconds left in the half.
USF held FAU to 228 total yards, but USF's defense can't keep opposing defenses from scoring.
"We just have to keep playing together, keep fighting for each other," Lattimore said. "That's the most important thing right now."
USF has lost 12 of 13, with one victory in the past calendar year. Saturday's announced attendance was 33,792, but the actual attendance was 20,751, down from an actual 22,609 in the season opener. Little has changed — on the scoreboard, and in being able to limit costly turnovers — in Taggart's three games as head coach.
"It's frustrating to see the same things over and over again. More than anything, that's the frustrating part, knowing we can play much better than what we're playing," Taggart said. "We will. It's a long season. It's frustrating right now, being 0-3, losing at home. … We've got some work to do, some correction to do, quick, fast, in a hurry."