TAMPA ― When the offense you coordinate is neither crisp nor consistent, your profession can seem cold and clinical. USF’s Kerwin Bell, who might not see a 12th month on the job, gets all that.
“Man, we wanna do good, it’s just been unbelievable, the things that’s happened that people don’t realize,” Bell said Tuesday. “But listen, there’s no excuses in this game. You either win that football game or you lose it, and we ain’t won enough games.”
As a result, Bell, Charlie Strong and the rest of the Bulls staff are imperiled. Black Friday might not come with a tomorrow attached to it, especially if logic holds serve and UCF (8-3, 5-2) dispatches the Bulls (4-7, 2-5) at Spectrum Stadium.
But if these are the waning moments of a brief Bell era, the legendary former Gators quarterback is falling on his figurative sword. Which is to say, his faith in his pro-style offense remains sturdy as ever.
“If I look back on the season, it’s just missed opportunities that we had where we had people in the position to make plays, and man, we didn’t do it,” said Bell, who enters Friday’s season finale with the American Athletic Conference’s least-productive offense (338.3 ypg).
“But the other night (a 49-10 loss to Memphis), I’m telling you, other than the one touchdown we scored, we had four other times we had touchdowns.”
If Bell were inclined, he could lean on attrition as a convenient ― and plausible ― excuse for a unit that ranks 11th in the league in scoring (22.1 ppg) and has failed to score a first-half touchdown five times.
Opening night starting quarterback Blake Barnett (ankle) has been out since late September. Converted tailback Johnny Ford, projected as a vital cog of the offense at slot receiver, has been suspended for six games. And the college career of leading rusher Jordan Cronkrite recently ended with a shoulder injury.
Additionally, redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud has tried keeping Bell’s offense afloat despite playing nearly the last two months with a sore throwing hand he re-injured against Memphis.
Yet only one eye is employed to stare down adversity. With the other, Bell sees myriad chances being created by his offense.
Chances that, for one reason or another, aren’t being seized.
“I think a lot of times this past game, there were some great opportunities,” said senior tight end Mitch Wilcox, the team’s top 2020 NFL draft prospect who was targeted once against Memphis. “Especially in the first half…and we’ve just got to capitalize on those.”
So why are they being squandered? Bell says it’s not a lack of focus or execution, or a failure to grasp the complexities of his offense, where timing routes are prevalent.
“I mean, we maybe average two busts a week,” he said, “so it’s not like we’re not executing.”
The final assessment might suggest a simple lack of synchronicity. Sometimes when the plays have been there, McCloud’s protection has broken down (see 17-7 loss to Temple). When the protection has been adequate, a pass or two has been dropped (see 49-0 loss to Wisconsin).
And in some cases, receivers have been missed because the QB either didn’t see them, or wasn’t healthy enough to put enough crispness on the pass (see 35-3 loss to Navy).
Because of this, Bell elicits frustration, but not fatalism. He still believes his players have that complete game in them, waiting to be unleashed. Just once, he’d like to see it come to fruition.
Only one chance might remain.
“It’s just missed opportunities, and that’s where I’m trying to encourage these guys,” he said.
“Let’s put it all together Friday night, let’s make sure we don’t miss those opportunities Friday night against a really good football team. Let’s go shock the world, let’s go out and play a great football game, and finish this season the way we should.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls