TAMPA — Trapped like rats.
There is no way out.
Not for USF. Not for USF's head coach.
But how do you call for heads when heads are already rolling around on the ground?
That speaks to USF's lifeless, gutless, emphatically embarrassing 41-15 loss to 4-5 Tulane on Saturday afternoon. I'd say Raymond James Stadium emptied early, but the place comes emptied early.
USF showed us a thing or two about checking out. Charlie Strong's Bulls quit on this season before this season quit on them. If there was ever a day for a head coach to issue a public apology, it was Saturday.
And now the words I never thought I'd write:
When does USF men's basketball season start?
Ah, Saturday. It was supposed to be the bounce back, Strong and his lads rebounding from the end to their perfect season at Houston. Their perfect season. Say that again if you want to bust a gut; 7-0 was such a lie. Saturday was the most hapless moment of Strong's tenure in Tampa. It's not even close.
Yes, Saturday was supposed to be when USF forgot about being overwhelmed at Houston, a mere blip, and got on with the mission of piecing together three wins to go 10-1 heading into the payback game with UCF on the day after Thanksgiving with the whole town bubbling.
You can forget that. This crew will be lucky if it gets out of this regular season with four losses. A better guess might be 7-5. What, they're winning at Cincinnati or Temple? This is the team that's going to outscore UCF?
"You're on the road twice, and then you've got Central Florida coming in," Strong said. "It's not looking very good. We'll see, because one thing we won't do is, we will not quit."
Problem: They did exactly that Saturday.
If you quit at home against Tulane, who won't you quit against?
All it took was one afternoon of bozo football. Everything was still on the table Saturday. Now there is no table, no chairs, no anything. USF will need to rally just to make the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl here in Tampa.
Think about that: rallying to make the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
If Strong wasn't 7-1 heading into Saturday, and 17-3 at USF, he'd be on the way out. Instead, he is stuck here, far from the Power Five, sentenced for the foreseeable future to life at USF and, as with Saturday, slow death.
He didn't have his players ready to play. And it showed.
"There's no reason for us to go out and perform the way we performed," Strong said. "Me, being the head coach, it falls on me, because the whole team looked bad, from the offense to the defense to the kicking game. We were god awful out there."
USF quarterback Blake Barnett looked mostly awful. Strong and his staff coached awful. USF's defense was awful, as usual; we expected that to eventually catch up with the Bulls. "Eventually" rode to the game with Tulane on Saturday.
It's hard to pick a signature moment from this steaming pile of 60 minutes.
Was it when USF was penalized early for "disconcerting signals" for clapping on defense, as if that confused Tulane?
Was it Darnell Mooney's leaping, twisting 39-yard catch over the hapless USF secondary to set up the Green Wave touchdown that made it 17-3?
Was it USF running back Johnny Ford's hands of stone on a Tulane punt that led to a fumble to set up the Wave's third touchdown to make it 24-3?
Was it when Tulane running back Corey Dauphine rag-dolled would-be USF tacklers on his way to 16 of Tulane's 368 rushing yards?
Was it when USF receiver Darnell Salomon got loose for a 32-yard reception, only to have a Tulane defender get a helmet on the ball to knock it loose and back 20 yards, where Tulane recovered?
Was it the way Tulane's Darius Bradwell went untouched for a 73-yard score to make it 34-3 after a Barnett interception?
Stop me if you need to rest.
"Everybody is waiting on somebody to make the play instead of making the play themselves," Strong said.
I'm not even sure a USF win over I-4 rival UCF would make up for this. USF will nevertheless try to believe that.
Seeing was believing Saturday.
USF quit on this season.
Lifeless. Gutless. Embarrassing.
Now those are disconcerting signals.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.