TAMPA — Raymond James Stadium was awash Saturday in pregame military-veteran pageantry, from generals to cadets to red, white and blue USF helmets.
In the end, all the patriotic spirit seemed fitting.
Because the Bulls often seemed there in spirit only. The offense that brandished itself Halloween night in Houston was nowhere to be spotted.
The hullabaloo created by the dazzling Oct. 31 debut of freshman quarterback Mike White evaporated on a mildly soggy field before an actual audience (according to the Tampa Sports Authority) of 14,793.
Besieged by penalties and picks, the Bulls' bowl aspirations formally ended with a 23-10 loss to Memphis. Only pride — and maybe a projection of next season — will be on the line for USF's final three games, including Saturday at home against SMU.
"We didn't execute," Bulls coach Willie Taggart said. "We didn't make the winning plays. We didn't do the things it takes to win ball games. When we had opportunities to do those things, we didn't do it. We shot ourselves in the foot once again."
USF (2-7, 2-3 American Athletic Conference), which has lost its past seven games following a bye week, was flagged nine times for 70 yards, bringing its total over the past eight quarters to 28 (for 240 yards).
And its season-high five turnovers followed a 15-day layoff.
"It does (stink)," said tailback Marcus Shaw (11 carries, 57 yards). "It would surprise anybody, we had so much time to practice. God works in mysterious ways."
In that sense, the Bulls were downright baffled midway through the second quarter.
On second-and-goal from the Memphis 1, 316-pound senior fullback Lawrence Martin — who had no carries on the season coming in — failed to secure a slightly high handoff from White. Memphis (3-6, 1-4) recovered the loose ball in the end zone, then took over at the 35 when Shaw was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play. Shaw wouldn't address the play; Taggart said he was told Shaw got spat upon.
A touchdown would've given USF a 6-3 lead. Taggart defended the handoff to Martin instead of a more experienced back.
"You probably would've seen it a lot more this year, we just hadn't been on the goal line as much," he said. "We ran it and fumbled the handoff."
From there, White (18-for-33, 198 yards) looked more like a wayward rookie than a wunderkind.
Sixteen days after his 311-yard, two-touchdown performance in the 35-23 loss at Houston, the Fort Lauderdale freshman found himself saddled by third-and-long situations most the evening.
Three of his four picks led to Tiger scores.
"I thought Mike tried to do too much at times and that hurt him," said Taggart, who got only 127 yards from his run game.
"I think when the offense wasn't going well … he wanted to make some plays and rather than make the right plays or right reads, he made some mistakes that he shouldn't have made."
White's third interception, with 1:35 to play, was intercepted by senior defensive back Bobby McCain — who had three of them — and returned 37 yards for the Tigers' final score.
White answered with a 31-yard TD to Jefferson High alumnus Andre Davis (seven catches, 110 yards) with 46 seconds to go. The Bulls recovered the ensuing onside kick, but McCain picked off White's Hail Mary on the final play in the end zone.
"The kind of offense we are, we can't fight from behind and expect to come back and do magical things," Davis said. "We've got to get up early and do what we've got to do early."