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USF’s defense fails to show up in loss at Alabama Birmingham

The Bulls surrender 608 yards in a performance reminiscent of last season, when they ranked dead last in the FBS in total defense.
 
USF defensive coordinator Todd Orlando watches from the sidelines during a game against Alabama last month in Tampa. The Bulls allowed 608 yards in a 56-35 loss to UAB Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama.
USF defensive coordinator Todd Orlando watches from the sidelines during a game against Alabama last month in Tampa. The Bulls allowed 608 yards in a 56-35 loss to UAB Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Oct. 8, 2023|Updated Oct. 8, 2023

After looking for five weeks like a team that had turned things around, USF Saturday at Alabama Birmingham often resembled the squad that spent much of last season struggling to keep up — particularly on defense.

Playing before a sparse crowd of 23,792, the Bulls defense surrendered a whopping 608 yards in a 56-35 loss. The performance was reminiscent of a year ago, when the Bulls ranked dead last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense, allowing an average of 516.6 yards per game.

In fact, the 56 points were more than USF (3-3, 2-1 AAC) allowed in any game last season (topping the 54 in a loss at Temple). It was a confounding turn of events considering that in the previous five games USF, which entered on a two-game winning streak, had allowed an average of 398 yards.

“We certainly didn’t play well enough on either side of the ball. ... We gave up 11 explosives (six passes of more than 20 yards and five rushes of more than 15), and six of those went for touchdowns,” said first-year coach Alex Golesh.

“At the end of the day, the stars aligned (Saturday) in a negative way. We had dropped balls, which is uncharacteristic, we had the fumble (early in the first quarter), which is uncharacteristic. We didn’t play like us. We didn’t play like we expected.”

Golesh said he told his team afterward the game was “simply a bump in what is a continuing process to building a program.”

“I told the team that if we’re going to be a process-driven team, then we’re going to go back and evaluate our process and see what led to this,” he said. “If we are a result-driven team, then we will sit here and pout for the next two weeks about it. I don’t think this defines us.”

USF quarterback Byrum Brown, pictured against Alabama, threw for 260 yards and ran for 136 against UAB but had two interceptions and a lost fumble.
USF quarterback Byrum Brown, pictured against Alabama, threw for 260 yards and ran for 136 against UAB but had two interceptions and a lost fumble. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

By halftime, UAB, which was averaging 420.2 yards per game, had racked up 392. It had ripped off passing plays of 75, 61 and 26 yards, and had four rushes of 15 or more yards.

The halftime score — UAB 35, USF 14 — reflected both the Blazers’ offensive dominance and the Bulls’ miscues. Those included an interception by quarterback Byrum Brown at the UAB 10-yard line with 11:26 remaining in the first quarter and a lost fumble by Brown at the Bulls 33 four minutes later.

After each of those turnovers, UAB (2-4, 1-1) answered with drives for touchdowns.

“You can’t get in holes like that,” Golesh said. “You can’t live there, because that’s a really, really tough way to make a living. The (lost fumble) was a real momentum-killer.”

Another came after a rare Bulls defensive highlight.

With a little more than 3 minutes left in the first quarter, UAB led 21-7 and faced first and 10 at the USF 16. But Bulls defensive back Braxton Clark picked off a pass and returned it 35 yards to the 40.

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Nine plays later, USF was in the end zone following a 14-yard run by Brown on the last play of the quarter. Instead of likely trailing by three scores, USF was within a touchdown heading into the second quarter.

The trouble was, there was no stopping UAB, which scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive and never let up behind quarterback Jacob Zeno (19 of 25, 353 yards, 4 touchdowns) and nine rushers who combined for 253 yards on 48 carries.

Brown was a relatively bright spot for the Bulls, completing 24 of 43 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 16 times for 136 yards and two scores.

“I felt like we were in good position (early), but I just had too many turnovers on my part,” said Brown, who provided some hope when he tore off a 60-yard run for a touchdown inside the opening two minutes. “Now this is going to hurt for 24 hours, and then we’re going to watch the film (Sunday) and get ready for (Florida Atlantic University) next week.”

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