USF coach Jeff Scott didn’t necessarily have to review the game tape to see why his defense struggled so mightily Saturday against recent league doormat East Carolina.
All he really had to see was the Bulls' participation report.
USF (1-3, 0-2 American Athletic Conference) used only 19 scholarship defensive players in its 44-24 loss to the Pirates. That number fell to 18 when nickel back Vincent “Smoke” Davis was ejected for targeting on the game’s opening possession.
By comparison, Florida employed 28 defensive players in its 41-38 loss Saturday at Texas A&M. Temple, which hosts the Bulls on Saturday, used 23 in its 31-29 loss at Navy.
“We have a lot of guys that are giving a lot of effort, but we just don’t have any depth,” Scott said on his regular Monday morning segment on 95.3-FM. “Thirty-five plays into the game, we’re already tired because the same guys that are out there playing every snap are the only guys we have in practice to take every snap.”
The primary culprits at the center of the depth dilemma: feeble recruiting and of course, COVID-19.
Linebacker Dwayne Boyles, defensive end Tyrone Barber, free safety Mekhi LaPointe and strong safety Bentlee Sanders all were listed as “unavailable” Saturday for reasons not specified. As a result, two freshmen — weakside linebacker Mac Harris and strong safety Chris Townsel — started against the Pirates.
When Davis was ejected and Townsel appeared to pull a hamstring on a 75-yard East Carolina touchdown pass, the Bulls really had to scramble in the secondary.
“I know from my end, it was the second week in a row that I played a position that I hadn’t practiced all week,” safety Brock Nichols said.
East Carolina (1-2, 1-1) finished with 432 yards, scoring on its first four possessions and going 8-for-16 on third down. The win was the Pirates' first against a conference foe not named Connecticut since 2017.
“Several of their big plays came from situations where we were misaligned,” said Scott, who is hopeful of getting some of his unavailable players back this week.
“Whenever you’re already in a position going into the season where you’re maybe limited in some depth roles, and then you start pulling guys out, it really gets to a position where you’re just trying to hold on. And unfortunately that’s where we were for most of the night Saturday.”