Missed opportunities hurt USF on the road at SMU

“We’re going to go back and be sick when we watch the video of this game,” coach Jeff Scott says.
USF quarterback Timmy McClain (9) prepares to hand the ball off to Jaren Mangham, right, during Saturday's game against SMU in Dallas, Texas.
USF quarterback Timmy McClain (9) prepares to hand the ball off to Jaren Mangham, right, during Saturday's game against SMU in Dallas, Texas. [ MARY HOLT | USF Athletics ]
Published Oct. 3, 2021

USF ended a brutal season-opening five-game stretch Saturday with a 41-17 loss at SMU, leaving Bulls coach Jeff Scott and his players feeling plenty frustrated after a slew of missed opportunities against the Mustangs.

“We’re going to go back and be sick when we watch the video of this game,” Scott said of the American Athletic Conference opener for both teams. “Because we will see a lot of opportunities, offensively, defensively and on special teams where we had a chance to be in this game. We had chances to make plays and we didn’t make them.”

There were several glaring misfires that included quarterback Timmy McClain missing three wide-open receivers on long passes (two that likely would have gone for touchdowns), losing a fumble and letting time run out on a scramble at the end of the first half, snuffing a chance at a 37-yard field goal attempt.

“(McClain’s play) was disappointing, and he would tell you that,” Scott said of his true freshman, who was making his third collegiate start and had a stellar performance last week at BYU. “(Hitting open receivers) were plays he made previously. Ultimately, we need to coach him better. We have to find out what the issue was. He did not look as confident. I think SMU had something to do with that. I did think he made some good decisions, but he missed some throws that he should have made.”

McClain, who finished 14-of-22 for 223 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, still had the Bulls in the game in the second half. He bookended the third quarter with two 75-yard scoring drives to pull the Bulls within 27-17 heading into the fourth.

In the final 15 minutes, however, SMU (5-0) made all the key plays, while USF (1-4) made all the key mistakes.

Scott was most perturbed by the eight penalties for 75 yards committed by the Bulls, who in the first four games were close to penalty free. “I don’t know why they cropped up today. It’s another thing we will have to look at,” he said.

Scott also didn’t believe the back-to-back long road trips —  involving 14 hours of flight time and 7,160 miles round trip — had anything to do with the poor play Saturday.

“A few weeks ago I looked at that on the schedule and I was a little concerned about (the turnaround), but now, no, I don’t think so,” Scott said. “I thought our guys were well rested and looked fresh. We can’t make any excuses.”

USF has a bye week coming up, followed by a home game against Tulsa (1-4, 0-1), a break that hopefully will give some injured players — including cornerbacks TJ Robinson, Jalen Herring and Christian Williams — a chance to get healthy and return.

The Bulls’ patchwork secondary did have some decent moments against SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who came in leading the nation in passing touchdowns with 20, and the Mustangs’ high-octane offense (ranked fifth in the country in total offense, 550 yards a game).

SMU finished well below its season average with 463 total yards, and Mordecai was 29-of-42 for 301 yards passing with four touchdowns, but he did have to fight off some USF pressure.

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The Bulls had six tackles for loss and added a tipped ball by end Tramel Logan that led to an interception at the 50-yard line by linebacker Dwayne Boyles; it was the second pick of his career.

Scott said the defensive pressure was one of the positives he could take away from Saturday. Another was freshman wideout Jimmy Horn Jr., who played with McClain at Sanford Seminole High and led USF with a career-high five catches for 102 yards.

“We wanted to give Horn some more opportunities because he’s coming on,” Scott said. “We’re going to need him, somebody outside of (Xavier) Weaver (three catches for 34 yards) to give us another threat.”

Of the 130 Division I-A teams, USF was the only one to open against three teams ranked in the Associated Press top 25 — No. 10 Florida, No. 13 BYU and No. 23 NC State (which last week beat perennial powerhouse Clemson) — through the first five weeks.

But again, Scott isn’t looking for excuses.

“I told our guys that I’d be a lot more concerned if we just got dominated and (SMU’s) guys were wide open all the time,” Scott said. “And maybe if nothing was there for us offensively and no guys open. But that wasn’t the case. We had opportunities.”

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