TAMPA — A collection of casualties and injuries forced USF to piece together a starting lineup on an otherwise glorious afternoon Saturday.
But the Bulls' most significant ailments call for far more than a Band-Aid fix. Its performance — or lack thereof — against sub-.500 foe Tulane made that vivid.
"We were god awful out there," Bulls coach Charlie Strong said.
On a day bereft of humidity, the Bulls (7-2, 3-2) seemed mostly absent as well. Besieged again by porous run defense, conservative offensive play selection and overall lethargy, the Bulls let the Green Wave (4-5, 2-3) score 34 unanswered points in a 41-15 defeat.
Throw in last weekend's 57-36 loss at Houston, and the Bulls have surrendered 98 total points in their last two games, a program record for back-to-back contests.
"We just weren't focused, man," fifth-year receiver Stanley Clerveaux said. "We took Tulane for granted."
It proved to be a costly mind-set. Saturday's loss, for all practical (if not mathematical) intents, eliminated USF from contention in the American Athletic Conference's East Division, and ruined any remote aspiration for a New Year's Six bowl appearance.
The only thing the Bulls clinched was another appearance in a low-tier December bowl game.
"For us to come out and play the way we played … it's on the coaches," Strong said.
"And I told our players that Thursday I saw it coming and didn't say much. Then even today during pregame warmup I saw it coming. I said, 'I know we're not ready to play, we're not focused.' It's just the little things, and they catch up with you."
That lack of focus was accompanied by a lack of bodies Saturday.
USF played without starting middle linebacker Nico Sawtelle (shoulder), tight end Mitch Wilcox (ankle), defensive tackle Kevin Kegler (unspecified) and safety Mekhi LaPointe (unspecified). Top tackler Khalid McGee also was held out, presumably for shoving an assistant coach on the sideline last week at Houston.
The announced Raymond James Stadium crowd of 31,388, a hearty chunk of which left early in the third quarter, was left to speculate about how many of the other Bulls actually showed up.
Tulane (4-5, 2-3), which has lost to the likes of UAB, Wake Forest and SMU, gashed the Bulls for 368 rushing yards, becoming the fifth USF opponent this season to collect 220 or more yards on the ground.
Green Wave backs Corey Dauphine and Darius Bradwell finished with 114 and 135, respectively, both single-handedly out-rushing USF (110).
"It's more of gap control," Strong said. "Guys jumping out of their gaps and overrunning the football, and the ball cutting back … and just not having the explosive plays on offense."
Quarterback Blake Barnett finished as USF's top rusher (16 carries, 59 yards), throwing for 205 of his 332 yards after halftime, when the Bulls had to throw. After managing a field goal on its first possession, the Bulls punted on four of their next six possessions.
The other two ended on a failed fourth-and-5 pass, and a fumble.
"From that point on (after the field goal), it was just a lot of details, little things that we should've done better," Barnett said.
The mediocrity gave way to madcap in the second half.
On the Bulls' second offensive possession of the second half, veteran receiver Darnell Salomon hauled in a downfield pass from Barnett, but had it knocked loose by safety Tirise Barge. P.J. Hall scooped it up and returned it 17 yards to the Bulls 45.
On the next Bulls possession, a Barnett throw intended for Salomon was deflected and picked by linebacker Zachery Harris. The next play, Bradwell scored on a 73-yard run, giving Tulane a 34-3 lead.
By that point, any chance of the Bulls rallying from a fourth-quarter double-digit hole for the fourth time this year seemed laughable.
"The first seven games, we were playing around and we ended up winning those seven games, but it came back to haunt us really," Clerveaux said.
"Tulane came out here ready to play football and we didn't."
"We didn't play hard at all."
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.