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Four reasons USF can rebound at Georgia Tech

Conventional thought says the Bulls won’t lay another egg in Atlanta.
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (23) runs the ball during the third quarter against USF on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times] [ALLIE GOULDING  |  Times]
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (23) runs the ball during the third quarter against USF on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times] [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]
Published Sep. 4
Updated Sep. 5

TAMPA — We’re not about to try to explain away an inexplicable performance. USF’s dreadful exhibition in its 49-0 loss to Wisconsin in its season opener Friday transcends a bad throw here or a botched assignment there.

We’re talking a seven-touchdown differential.

“We knew we had to play exceptional to go beat this team,” Bulls coach Charlie Strong said.

Instead of a perfect effort by the Bulls against the nationally ranked Badgers, the nation saw a putrid one ESPN. Still, the stench shouldn’t linger. The debacle represented an imperfect storm of sorts: a convergence of bad execution, bad matchup and bad luck.

Here are four reasons to see the Bulls rebounding — perhaps in a big way — Saturday at Georgia Tech.

1. Johnny Ford returns

USF slot receiver Johnny Ford (20) stands on the sidelines during the game against Wisconsin on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times] [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]

Though USF still hasn’t said why the 5-foot-5 slot receiver was sidelined for the Wisconsin game, Strong has said Ford will return Saturday.

Believed to be the key component in new coordinator Kerwin Bell’s offense (one in which diminutive, dynamic playmakers historically have flourished), Ford’s absence limited the options in Bell’s playbook.

“Johnny missing the game was big for us,” Bell said Wednesday. “We had a lot of stuff on him to handle some of (Wisconsin’s) man coverages. He’s a great man-beater for us, and with him being out, it really put a lot of extra emphasis on other guys.”

Would the sophomore have made a 49-point difference? No. But imagine the early momentum USF might have seized with Ford bursting for big yardage on a jet sweep or a swing pass.

2. The receivers might catch on this time

USF wide receiver Jernard Phillips (15) mishandles a throw from quarterback Blake Barnett (11) during the first quarter against Wisconsin on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times] [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]

After watching Wisconsin drive for a touchdown in eight plays in Friday’s opening drive, USF appeared poised to respond. Blake Barnett’s first throw, an out route to Randall St. Felix, went for 8 yards. Two plays later, Jordan Cronkrite churned forward for a 2-yard gain and a first down.

Then, Jernard Phillips dropped a Barnett pass near his sideline that would’ve picked up 20 yards. Barnett’s next throw, a 35-yard strike to Eddie McDoom, also was dropped.

“Those two drops were big,” Bell said. “You’re probably at midfield or beyond in the first two drives, now you gain momentum. That one explosive play on both of those would help you finish a drive and score some points.”

Soon thereafter, Barnett was rolling out for his life.

“Once (Wisconsin) settled in man (coverage), they just said, ‘Hey, we’re playing some man coverage. Let’s see if you can beat us,’ ” Bell said. “They got the lead, and then it got even tougher. Every series we went back out there, it got tougher and tougher.”

3. Georgia Tech is no Wisconsin

Given the Bulls’ chronic struggles against the run in 2018 and that they were unveiling a new offense (we’re still awaiting that unveiling), USF would’ve been far better suited opening against a Wofford or Western Carolina.

“We had done some things early in preseason camp,” Bell said, “but we hadn’t gone against the kind of team we were going against defensively.”

Fortunately for the Bulls, Georgia Tech is in major transition under new coach Geoff Collins.

The Yellow Jackets (0-1), changing from former coach Paul Johnson’s patented flexbone option, used three quarterbacks in a 52-14 loss at Clemson a week ago today. They surrendered 411 rushing yards to the Tigers, though their pass coverage was sound.

RELATED: Five things to know about Georgia Tech

4. Things can’t get worse, right?

One sports adage is that teams often make their greatest improvement from Game 1 to Game 2. The coaches now have tape against a live, quality opponent to assess, which can be far more beneficial than breaking down practice tape. Coaches also likely have a better idea of which personnel gives them the best chance for success going forward.

“I will say that I still have confidence and I believe in this football team,” Strong said. “And I know we’re going to go take care of our business.”


  1. New USF coach Jeff Scott has spent the last 12 seasons on the staff at Clemson, his alma mater. (Credit Image: © Adam Lacy/ZUMA Wire) [ADAM LACY  |]
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  2. Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott talks with receivers Mike Williams (7) and Artavis Scott (3) during a 2016 game at FSU. Scott was named USF's coach Monday. [DAVID GROOMS/CAL SPORT MEDIA  |]
    Though not the bay area’s primary recruiter for Clemson, Scott’s fingerprints are all over the region.
  3. USF announced Monday it has hired Clemson alumnus and Tigers co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott as its new coach. [JACOB KUPFERMAN  |]
    The 38-year-old Florida native will be introduced on campus Wednesday.
  4. Clemson offensive coordinator Jeff Scott during a game against Florida State on Oct. 12. [ JACOB KUPFERMAN  |]
    The Florida native’s coaching career at Clemson definitely outshined his playing one.
  5. Clemson co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott (foreground) speak to the media in Fort Lauderdale prior to the 2015 Orange Bowl. [GASTON DE CARDENAS  |  AP]
    Many signs indicate the Bulls could be close to landing the program’s fifth head football coach.
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  7. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, spent the 2012 season as Buccaneers receivers coach. He returns to Raymond James Stadium on New Year's Day, when the Golden Gophers face Auburn in the Outback Bowl. [STACY BENGS  |  AP]
    The Golden Gophers are making their first appearance in the Tampa game.
  8. UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel (11) runs against USF's Greg Reaves and defensive back Nick Roberts during the first half of the Knights' 34-7 victory in Orlando on Nov. 29. [WILLIE J. ALLEN JR.  |  AP]
    The Thundering Herd make their second straight December trip to Tampa.
  9. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron celebrates after the Southeastern Conference championship against Georgia on in Atlanta. LSU won 37-10. [JOHN AMIS  |  AP]
    LSU slides up to No. 1 in the final rankings of the season.
  10. USF freshman Kristyna Brabencova (22) scored 16 points in USF's 80-29 rout of Alabama State on Friday at the Yuengling Center. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times] [Joey Knight]
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