It would be easy to think that USF coach Jeff Scott must have walked under a ladder, opened an umbrella inside or broken a mirror given how his inaugural season at USF has played out.
Saturday afternoon was another tough loss for the Bulls as quarterback Clayton Tune led host Houston to a 56-21 victory. The loss marks the seventh straight game the Bulls (1-7, 0-6) have dropped this season, the team’s worst skid in a single season (the program began in 1997).
The game almost didn’t happen.
The Bulls were missing 13 players (including quarterback Noah Johnson and half their linebackers). Scott said the team was one more injury or positive COVID-19 test away from not being able to field enough players.
Tune led the Cougars down the field on the opening drive, scoring in just under a minute. From there, things worsened as Houston (3-3, 3-2) took a 28-0 lead before the second half started (the Cougars scored on four of their first six drives).
“The first half got away from us really quickly,” Scott said. “(It was) a really disappointing day overall. Probably the only bright spot was coming out after halftime in a very tough situation, I felt like our guys really fought back.”
USF was without Johnson, who didn’t make the trip to Houston after playing every snap in last weekend’s 34-33 loss at Memphis. Instead, Jordan McCloud started his sixth game of the season. The Plant High School product threw for 180 yards on 14-for-29 passing.
The offense struggled under Johnson and freshman Katravis Marsh, with the Bulls failing to score until late in the third quarter — which kicked off 21 unanswered points before Houston answered with a pair of touchdowns to seal the win.
Houston’s defense didn’t help matters, sacking McCloud three times in the first half. The defense also held the Bulls to 5-for-17 on third-down conversions (USF’s first such conversion came at the 7:14 mark of the third quarter).
The Bulls changed things up in the second half, starting Marsh under center. The Hialeah native logged 43 yards and went 4-for-10 passing in his fourth game of the season. An incomplete, first-down pass from Houston’s 31-yard line to DeVontres Dukes (Wharton High) in the end zone early in the third quarter was his best look of the game.
But he didn’t last long.
McCloud reentered late in the third after Marsh threw an interception as he was tackled. Houston ran it back for a pick-six, extending the Cougars' lead to 42-0.
The Bulls finally overcame their scoring woes on a 2-yard run from Leonard Parker, ending the shutout with 3:37 left in the third quarter. McCloud also found Omarion Dollison in the end zone — the freshman wide receiver’s first career touchdown — in the fourth quarter.
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The Bulls defense got in on the scoring, too, when defensive back Bentlee Sanders (Tampa Catholic) intercepted a pass from Tune on third and 1 early in the fourth quarter to cut Houston’s lead to 42-21 with the 28-yard return.
Sanders saw Tune signal a play he recognized from watching tape and adjusted to the route as coaches hollered his name from the sideline. He knew what to do.
With an already thin lineup, the Bulls faced more challenges.
About seven minutes and change remained before halftime when USF lost defensive tackle Blake Green on the play before Houston’s fourth touchdown. Marsh came off the field with a third-quarter injury — after getting tackled on his intercepted throw — and cornerback K.J. Sails (East Bay High) also went down midway through the fourth quarter, holding his left knee.
Scott was unable to provide an additional update on Sails or Marsh after the loss. And he still doesn’t blame the thin lineup for the outcome.
With two games remaining, Scott still believes his team has something to fight for against Navy and UCF.
Scott said the one thing people will say when they talk about this year is that the team never quit. And the team feels that way in the locker room, too.
“You’re going to see a team that just doesn’t quit (over these next two weeks),” Sanders said. “We’re going to work each and every day at practice and get better and we’re just building.”
Saturday was USF’s second-worst loss of the season. The first came Sept. 19 against Notre Dame. USF fell 52-0 to the Fighting Irish on national TV.
vs. Navy, 8 p.m. next Saturday; Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
TV/radio: ESPNU, 95.3/620 WDAE
Contact Mari Faiello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @faiello_mari.