TAMPA — At times, they made Teddy Bridgewater appear as stationary as a Heisman statuette. For the better part of a blissfully mild day, USF's defense hit, hounded and harassed Louisville's future first-round NFL draftee.
But therein lay the difference between Bridgewater and the Bulls. While Teddy Football was forced to pay for darned near every completion, USF couldn't buy any forward progress.
Not even when it cashed in its most valuable redshirt.
On an afternoon when its defense gave it a chance, USF extended its historic stretch of offensive futility in a 34-3 loss to the No. 18 Cardinals.
USF (2-5, 2-1 American) now has gone 12 consecutive quarters — a program record — without an offensive touchdown.
"We're going to try to find some playmakers however we can," said coach Willie Taggart, whose Bulls managed only 133 total yards and converted 1 of 9 third downs.
"Wherever we can find them, we're going to find them. If it's playing guys both ways, we're going to do that, but we're going to find some playmakers."
The search actually started with 7:44 remaining Saturday.
As most of the 21,365 observers (the actual attendance, per the Tampa Sports Authority) were exiting, 6-foot-5 freshman Mike White entered, nullifying his redshirt status for a season that likely has five games remaining.
The first oral commitment of the Taggart era, White got his first playing time of 2013 after Steven Bench — summoned when starter Bobby Eveld left with a sprained left ankle — had a pass over the middle returned for a 70-yard touchdown by cornerback Charles Gaines.
Taggart said White (1-for-2, 5 yards) will start Thursday at Houston, becoming the Bulls' fourth starting quarterback in eight games. In the first seven, USF's offense has scored six touchdowns — one fewer than it has allowed to opposing defenses.
"It wasn't that I had to try it. It's that I wanted to try it," Taggart said. "I wanted to see what the kid can do for us, and he's going to get an opportunity to do it again next week. And we'll see how it goes."
Barring an injury or complete meltdown, White's stint likely will be a five-game audition for 2014. His predecessors Saturday, thwarted by flimsy protection and dropped passes, combined to finish 7-for-17 for 90 yards, one interception and four sacks.
The running game, missing top rusher Marcus Shaw for the second consecutive contest, offered little relief, amassing 38 yards on 20 carries.
"It's disappointing because I see these guys in practice and I see them doing things they're capable of doing," Taggart said. "And we get in the game, and you don't see the same confidence in the game as you do in practices. And for me, that's frustrating."
Meantime, Bridgewater found a way to flourish despite being sacked three times — twice by linebacker DeDe Lattimore — and pressured countless others as USF registered 11 tackles for loss.
A veteran Bulls tormenter, Bridgewater finished 25-for-29 for 344 yards, giving him the best completion percentage (86.2) of any USF opponent with at least 20 attempts.
"I feel like we did play pretty good," said Bulls safety JaQuez Jenkins (career-best nine tackles). "The only routes that he hit were a lot of check-down routes. He had a couple of wide receivers crossing, but he didn't hit too many deep passes."
Alas, those check-downs chewed up time in bunches. Bridgewater, who connected with 11 receivers, led four scoring drives of 73 yards or more as the Cardinals (7-1, 3-1) controlled the ball for 41 minutes, 43 seconds.
"When your defense is out there that long, they're going to give up some plays. I don't care who it is," Taggart said. "If they can have some help from our offense, that game is totally different."
Follow Joey Knight on Twitter @TBTimes_Bulls.