USF has been looking for a breakthrough, a turning point, a sign that victories will start coming.
The Bulls are still waiting.
A week after playing great in a close loss in The Swamp against then-No. 18 Florida, USF traveled to Louisville and looked extremely vulnerable Saturday afternoon.
The Bulls often looked a step, or two, behind in the 41-3 loss.
“It was a very disappointing day where we played poorly in all three areas,” USF coach Jeff Scott said. “We didn’t coach well, we didn’t play well. The bottom line is that we have to take ownership for what we put out there.”
The Bulls (1-3) had particular trouble with Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham, who passed (14-of-22, 186 yards, one touchdown) and ran (nine carries, 113 yards, three touchdowns) almost at will for three quarters.
At the end of the first half, Cunningham and the Cardinals (2-2) led 28-0 and dominated in total yardage, 329-84. In the first 30 minutes, Cunningham already had 100 yards passing and 106 yards rushing, including a 40-yard dash where he dodged and shedded tacklers with relative ease.
“(Cunningham) is just an outstanding player and though we had them in some third and longs, they went to the speed option and we didn’t have our guys in the right position, and then we didn’t tackle well,” Scott said. “We knew that (Cunningham) was too good of a runner to let him have the space that he had today. We will have to go back and evaluate what we’re doing defensively. We have to get guys in better positions.”
USF quarterback Gerry Bohanon, meantime, was often desperately running from Louisville’s defensive line and ultimately completed 9-of-17 for 62 yards and two interceptions. A few times while running for his life, Bohanon, who has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season, ended up throwing wildly.
Part of the problem stemmed from having four of the Bulls’ top receivers — Xavier Weaver, Jimmy Horn, Khafre Brown and Ajou Ajou — out with various leg injuries.
Facing USF’s backups, Louisville stacked the box and also stuffed USF’s rushing attack to 35 rushes for 48 yards, well below the Bulls’ production the past two weeks where they gained 286 in the ground against Florida and 205 against Howard.
In the third quarter with the score out of reach, Bohanon, the Baylor transfer, gave way to backup Katravis Marsh, who also struggled to find a rhythm (4-for-11, 48 yards), and was also often found sprinting from charging defenders.
Scott said that Bohanon remains the Bulls’ starter and taking him out had everything to do with preserving him for the upcoming conference schedule, which begins next week at home against East Carolina.
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“I didn’t want to lose our starting quarterback before we played our first conference game,” Scott said. “He was banged up coming out of (the Florida game) and he really wasn’t able to throw much this week. So you know, you have to think about the entire season ahead.”
Scott and the Bulls have now lost 14 straight on the road, a streak dating to October 2019 when USF defeated East Carolina 45-20.
Can USF still turn it around? Scott believes it is possible.
“A lot depends on how we respond from these first four games,” Scott said. “In the previous two games (Howard and Florida) we were able to see what we are capable of doing. And then against BYU (a season opening 50-21 loss) and today we see what happens when we don’t play well. And so if we played all four games like we played today then I’d be a lot more concerned than I am now.
“We have to go back and evaluate and correct our mistakes. I know we can do that.”