Fennelly: Forget USF running the table; look out for the cliff

Bulls receiver Tyre McCants heads for the end zone and the winning touchdown in the fourth.
Bulls receiver Tyre McCants heads for the end zone and the winning touchdown in the fourth.
Published Sept. 3, 2017

TAMPA — This doesn't look like a team that's going to run the table.

It looks like one that could fall off a cliff.

In its home opener Saturday, 19th-ranked USF beat I-AA Stony Brook 31-17 — and it was much closer than that. In their home opener, the Bulls trailed late in the third quarter, took the lead, then Stony Brook tied it early in the fourth quarter. Stony Brook.

What a joke.

Charlie Strong is 2-0 as USF head coach, and it doesn't feel like that.

"I thought that today we were awful," Strong said. "You just watched it."

It might have been a merciful thing that only an alleged crowd of 26,640 showed up at Raymond James Stadium. This would have been the worst loss in USF history. This program would never have been ranked again.

Not that I ever thought the Bulls would lose, that Strong would get McNeesed, but the mere thought of it should be enough to drop USF in the rankings.

"We don't have any reason to drop," Strong said. "We just need to get better."

And how.

Where was the urgency Saturday? I mean, USF fell behind 16-0 in its season opener at San Joe State before making it into a rout.

Lesson learned?

Not even close.

This game should not have been close. It didn't even have a betting line. It should have been a blowout, over and done with before halftime.

In the end, USF made a few more plays when it mattered, including Quinton Flowers' 65-yard touchdown pass to Tyre McCants that put the Bulls up for good with 11:23 left in the game.

Yes, it took that long.

It's hard to see a perfect regular season from here. Real hard. True, USF might go out and put up 50 points at UConn next weekend. And Lovie Smith might lend a helping hand when he brings Illinois in for a Friday night game after that. USF can beat anyone. But in its current state, it could lose to anyone.

Saturday, Tom Herman lost his first game as Texas coach, as Maryland hung 51 on the Longhorns in Austin. Guess that should make Charlie look good, him being ex-Texas and all, right up until Texas fans complain that clearly Charlie left the cupboard bare. Sometimes you just can't win.

And win is what Strong needs to do at USF. Win, win, win. There is no room for error if USF is going to thread this needle, no room for performances like we've see the first two weeks.

This is not to take anything away at all from Stony Brook. The Seawolves had never played a ranked Division I-A team in their history, and they weren't just here for the juice boxes after. They gave a tremendous effort. Full disclosure: My sister and niece attended Stony Brook, though neither of them went out for the team.

The Seawolves were all in. USF never quite managed that.

When, oh, when?

"We have to get our minds right and stay focused," Strong said.

Before it's too late.

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Run the table?

The cliff is climbing in the rankings.