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Saddled with rookie quarterbacks, Charlie Strong challenges USF receivers

The Bulls coach says his receivers “haven’t made any plays” in 2019.

TAMPA ― Even while hedging about who he plans to start at quarterback at East Carolina, USF coach Charlie Strong was far more straightforward Monday about his wide receivers.

They need to transform their spotty recent performances into sparkling ones. And now.

“We just haven’t made any plays,” Strong said during his weekly news conference, two days after the Bulls’ humbling 35-3 loss at Navy. “I said to our receivers the other night, ‘Give me the last time that we really went up and made a big catch where we went up with one hand.’”

MORE BULLS: Minus a healthy quarterback, USF mauled by Midshipmen

Mesmerizing catches, the kind executed frequently against the Bulls this year (see SMU), have been virtually nonexistent for USF. The glaring exception: tight end Mitch Wilcox’s 39-yard scoring catch against BYU, when he sprinted to the right side of the end zone to snag a wobbly throw not intended for him.

“We’ve got to make catches like that,” Strong said.

Any catches will do at this point.

Through seven games, the Bulls’ top receiver is walkon Bryce Miller (14 catches), with Wilcox second (13), far off his 43-catch pace of 2018. Sophomore Randall St. Felix, who had 33 receptions last year, has 11 so far.

And a year after his 22-catch season, senior Stanley Clerveaux still is seeking his first reception of ’19.

Part of that dropoff can be attributed to USF’s greenness at quarterback and the scheme (particularly in the case of Wilcox, who is being employed more as a blocker). But the Bulls also have victimized by drops (i.e. season opener against Wisconsin).

With a young quarterback ― redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud or walk-on Kirk Rygol ― to start Saturday at ECU, Strong said it’s essential his receivers catch the balls thrown to — or behind — their numbers.

MORE BULLS: Banged-up USF might turn to Kirk Rygol for East Carolina

“Every throw is not gonna be perfect,” Strong said. “So even though it’s not perfect, the ball doesn’t have to always hit you in your hands, sometimes we’ve got to lay out. We see it happening to us all the time.”

Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, whose team is ranked 18th, echoed that sentiment later Monday.

“I’ve said it since the day I walked in the door, your job as a wideout is to make the quarterback look good,” Fickell said said on the American Athletic Conference weekly coaches teleconference.

“Does that mean running good routes? Yeah. Does that mean making some really tough catches? Yeah. Our job is to make each other’s job easier, and particularly the quarterback, who’s got so much on his plate. If we think we need a perfect ball all the time, we’re gonna be sorely misled.”

As for USF’s quarterback situation, Strong said McCloud (wrist, shoulder) would start at ECU if healthy, but the Plant High alumnus struggled to raise his throwing arm ― much less throw a pass ― at Navy, where he struggled (11-for-23, 50 yards, one interception).

Rygol, a journeyman of sorts who spent last year at a two-year program in Brooklyn, finished 4-for-7 for 64 yards in relief of McCloud in Annapolis.

A plausible scenario is sitting McCloud this weekend, giving him two full weeks to recover from his injuries. USF has a bye weekend after ECU, then hosts Temple on Thursday, Nov. 7.

“If we’re not on track, if you’re not making the throws we need to make, then we make that decision where you give (Rygol) a chance and get him some time,” Strong said.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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