TAMPA — Six days after changing its head coach, USF often looked like the same old frustrated team Saturday at Raymond James Stadium: porous on defense (553 yards allowed), inconsistent on offense and ultimately way behind on the final score, 41-23 to SMU.
Adding to the Bulls’ long list of troubles was an injury to quarterback Katravis Marsh with 5:16 left in the game. He was taken off the field on a stretcher.
Interim coach Daniel Da Prato — the special teams coordinator who took over after Jeff Scott was fired following a 54-28 beatdown at Temple last weekend — came out pumping his fists and high-fiving in the opening minutes but turned less animated as the Mustangs pulled away in the second half.
“Obviously this was a difficult week for our young men and for our whole program, and I am proud of how we came out (Saturday) and were able to fight,” Da Prato said. “But at the end of the day, we play this game to win and didn’t play well enough to win this game.
“We need to find ways in the first and second half to get better. We need to get better in everything we do.”
Marsh, who took over the starting quarterback job a month ago when Gerry Bohanon went down with a season-ending shoulder injury, was hit hard during a run and was carted off the field under a doctor’s supervision. Da Prato said Marsh had movement in his extremities before he was taken to Tampa General Hospital for precautionary reasons.
USF (1-9, 0-6 American Athletic) finished the first 30 minutes tied with SMU at 17 with a few encouraging signs.
Perhaps most notable were two defensive stops while holding SMU (6-4, 4-2) to 17 points a week after the Mustangs tied the conference record for points in a half with 56 before beating Houston 77-63.
On the offensive side, Marsh threw for 127 first-half yards with four completions of 20-plus yards, including a 32-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Xavier Weaver.
Things looked all too frustratingly familiar for the Bulls after intermission.
After USF was stopped on the drive to open the third quarter, SMU scored on its next three drives of 97, 70 and 44 yards.
When the fourth quarter started, SMU led 38-17. The Mustangs offense went into the game ranked No. 10 in the nation in scoring, averaging 40.2 points per game.
“(SMU) came out attacking in the second with more confidence,” said linebacker Dwayne Boyles, who led the Bulls with seven tackles. “We tried some different things this week, but as players, we have to step up and make plays. At the end of the day, it’s up to the players to make the plays.”
One of the bright spots again for the Bulls was running back Brian Battie, who finished with 26 carries for 145 yards, the fifth time this season he rushed for more than 100.
Marsh finished 12-of-31 for 178 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
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Saturday’s loss extended the Bulls’ AAC losing skid to 11 games and added to another inauspicious mark: Since Scott took over before the 2020 season, USF and UMass are the only teams with one Division I-A victory. The Bulls are 1-27 against I-A teams in that span.
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