USF journal: Strong shoulders blame for defeat

USF freshman Johnny Ford, center, escapes tackles by Houston linebacker Roman Brown, left and defensive lineman Payton Turner during the second half of the Cougars' 57-36 victory Saturday. Ford recorded his second consecutive 100-yard rushing effort. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith) TXES113
USF freshman Johnny Ford, center, escapes tackles by Houston linebacker Roman Brown, left and defensive lineman Payton Turner during the second half of the Cougars' 57-36 victory Saturday. Ford recorded his second consecutive 100-yard rushing effort. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith) TXES113
Published October 29 2018

Count Charlie Strong among those who became too caught up in the hype over the Houston game.

On Monday, the second-year USF coach said it may have cost his squad, which fell 57-36 to the Cougars, setting a single-game program record for points allowed and falling from the rankings in the process.

"I probably take more of the blame than anyone because I was just saying the whole week how big this game is, we have a chance to go into an unbelievable situation here against Houston and we have to play very well," Strong said Monday.

"And I probably talked it up too much. When you have a young team, it's better probably to just let them keep playing and play the way they've been playing."

Yet for all the buildup (and subsequent dejection), Saturday's outcome had little effect on the Bulls' realistic 2018 goals.

RELATED: USF tries to avoid first losing streak since 2015

USF (7-1, 3-1) remains in control of its own destiny in the American Athletic Conference's East Division, and still has a plausible shot at a New Year's Six bowl berth. The Group of Five champion ranked highest by the College Football Playoff selection committee earns the New Year's Six berth.

Currently, No. 9 UCF and No. 17 Houston are the highest-ranked Group of Five teams. The Bulls still must play the Knights (Nov. 23) and could face the Cougars in a rematch for the AAC title.

But up next is Tulane (3-5, 2-2) on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.

McGee incident addressed

Strong indicated Saturday's sideline incident, in which ABC's cameras showed senior LB Khalid McGee shoving defensive backs coach Blue Adams, is being handled internally.

McGee, who returned to the game after the incident (and finished with 10 tackles) apologized via Twitter on Sunday morning.

"I met with Khalid, and I just told him there's no reason for that to ever happen," Strong said. "That's not gonna happen in our program. It will be handled. … He's an unbelievable young man, but he understands what he did and he knows who's involved."

Ford honored

Bulls freshman TB Johnny Ford made the AAC's weekly honor roll for the second week in a row following his 106-yard, two touchdown effort (on 16 carries) at Houston.

In his last two contests, Ford (5-foot-5, 168 pounds) has run for 270 yards and five TDs on only 23 carries (11.7 yards per carry).

"He's probably a lot quicker than he is fast…but he's fun to watch and he is developing and just turning into a complete back," Strong said.

"He can catch the ball out of the backfield, and he's small enough where he can hide behind the big guys, and then when it's time to break it into the open field, he can make people miss."

Injury update

TE Mitch Wilcox, who kept playing Saturday (two catches, 24 yards) despite injuring his ankle in the second half, is expected to be ready to play by this weekend, Strong said. So too are WR Tyre McCants (two catches, 18 yards) and WR Stanley Clerveaux (five receptions, 42 yards), both of whom sustained minor unspecified injuries.

"I tell you what, (Wilcox) is a warrior," Strong said. "Just an unbelievable player. He just battled through that injury and kept going on one leg, but he'll be ready by Saturday."

Strong also said WR Randall St. Felix, who simply couldn't push off his dinged-up knee last week and didn't make the trip to Houston, also could return this weekend. He didn't seem as optimistic about MLB Nico Sawtelle (shoulder).

"The thing you always have to look at when you're dealing with players is, it's a long-term process," Strong said. "I don't want him to run out there and go play and then he risks three or four months from now of not really getting back. So his (status) will be day to day."

Odds and ends

The AAC's TV partners are exercising a six-day hold on kickoff time for the Bulls' Nov. 10 game at Cincinnati, meaning the start of that game (and the network airing it) won't be announced until this weekend. … Dennis Kelly, retired Navy lieutenant, Vietnam War veteran and father of USF vice-president of athletics Michael Kelly, will conduct the coin toss at Saturday's contest, promoted as the Bulls' "Salute to Services" game.

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