After the Bulls opened their season with the worst loss in USF football history against Wisconsin this past weekend, a lot of criticism has been directed at the two predominant faces of the program, head coach Charlie Strong and starting QB Blake Barnett. However, there will be no apparent changes to the make-up of this team any time soon. Strong announced Monday that Barnett will still be the “go to” guy to lead his offense.
Bulls beat writer Joey Knight reported from Strong’s press conference Monday afternoon.
Strong says Barnett still is his guy. Indicated dropped passes, failure to spring run game led to his struggles. "For (the first) two series, he looked really good." #USF
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) September 2, 2019
Strong indicated that it was the initial two dropped passes by Jernard Phillips and Michigan transfer Eddie McDoom along with the failure to spring the run game that set then tone for the offensive failure on Friday night.
Still, Barnett was only 13-for-30 for 109 yards, two interceptions, a fumble, and three sacks. The Bulls had 157 total yards on the night with 40 of those yards coming on their final drive of the game, as they were already down 49-0. The loss makes this the 7th in a row for the Bulls, and fans continuing to question wether 23-year-old veteran quarterback has what it takes to turn the program around.
South Florida’s other option would be redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud, a Tampa native who as senior, completed 160 of 295 passes for 2,426 yards and 26 touchdowns. He led Sickles High School to a 12-2 record, district and regional titles, and a trip to the state semifinals in 2018.
At this point, the Bulls don’t really have much to lose by giving McCloud some playing time. He may be able to spark USF, where Barnett clearly has not been able to since last October. Clearly, if Barnett struggles again, then McCloud will likely see some action Saturday.
USF will play at Georgia Tech next Saturday, which has a new coach and was blown out by Clemson to start the season. And, the Bulls defeated the Jackets in a wild 49-38 game a year ago.
And, if the Bulls are not better, or at least competitive with the Yellow Jackets, it may be a foregone conclusion before USF ever begins American Conference play, that this will be Strong’s final year.
And, anyone that wants to argue with that, should put in the tape and watch how poorly his recruits and his coaches performed Friday night, when they had everything pointing to a huge game at home with the Badgers for months.
Bulls sticking with Jordan McCloud as starting QB
After two less than stellar offensive performances by the Bulls to start the season, USF head coach Charlie Strong and OC Kerwin Bell decided to switch things up for week 3. Just two hours before game time, the team learned that Jordan McCloud would be the starting quarterback against South Carolina state.
In fact, the decision was made so last minute that the video board in Raymond James Stadium still showed Blake Barnett as starter.
And it turned out to be a good decision.
The Bulls pulled away with their first win of the season in a 55-16 domination over the Bulldogs.
And it’s looking like they Bulls are going to try to build a win streak by keeping McCloud under center next week.
Regarding how Blake Barnett took the news that McCloud would be starting, Strong said: "Blake is a professional and he understands. He was good with it." @USFFootball
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) September 16, 2019
McCloud’s starting quarterback career started off a bit shaky. In his first snap, he tossed an incomplete pass intended for sophomore slot receiver Johnny Ford for a loss of 3 yards. The Bulls lost 12 yards in its first two drives with three incomplete passes and a sack.
However, he settled down on the next drive and led the offense for a gain of 64 yards, complete with a 42-yard touchdown pass to Ford. McCloud finished the game throwing for 217 yards with three touchdowns, and rushing for 56 yards. Most importantly, he proved to be shiftier behind a spotty O-Line, which allowed him to complete more plays than Blake Barnett has this season.
The redshirt freshman is a Tampa native who as senior in high school completed 160 of 295 passes for 2,426 yards and 26 touchdowns. He originally played at Sickles High School in 2017, but transferred to powerhouse 7A State title contender, Plant High. That’s where he had a 12-2 record, district and regional titles, and a trip to the state semifinals in 2018.
While it’s likely that Barnett would’ve put up similar numbers against South Carolina State, his most recent loss against Georgia Tech last weekend marked an 8 game losing streak for South Florida, and there was something to be said for switching things up and trying out McCloud.
He was able to spark USF, where Barnett clearly has not been able to since last October.
Coach Strong knows he needs to capitalize on this momentum, before this season becomes his last in Tampa.
Bulls OC Bell takes responsibility for shut out against Wisconsin
In Friday night’s opener against Big Ten perennial contender Wisconsin, the Bulls had suffered their worst loss in program history and left fans wondering what has caused such a downward spiral in the program over the last year and a half? And in a 49-0 loss, its hard to tell which side of the ball is a bigger struggle for the South Florida program?
While both looked alarmingly bad, the lack of offense was the ultimate reasoning behind the shut out, which led coordinator Kerwin Bell to taking full responsibility when speaking to the media on Wednesday.
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) September 4, 2019
“I’m the OC so I take all the blame, that’s all on my shoulders,” said Bell. “I’ve been in that position before, I’ve been shut out before, it didn’t feel good and surely last Friday night didn’t also. I was very disappointed in our performance. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Bell offered somewhat of an explanation as to why the team came out looking so ill-prepared and resembling every bit the team that lost their final six games last season. He said it’s the style of offense he’s introducing and that it takes time to get a team fully acclimated to it, which is not a new feat for him.
“This system is a little bit different than what everybody runs in college football, it’s more of a pro style. A lot of thinking, a lot of going through progressions and receivers changing their route on the run,” he added, “It takes a little bit of time and I’ve incorporated this thing 3 or 4 times now in new systems and we’ll be able to handle it. We’ll get up to speed, we just need some success with it.”
Bell also touched on the absence of USFs star slot receiver Johnny Ford. While there’s been no explanation to why he sat out of last weekends game, the Bulls play-caller did say that having him back will free up the rest of the offense in a major way.
“Johnny missing the game was big for us. We had a lot stuff on him to handle some of their man coverages. He’s a great man beater for us. With him being out it really put a lot of extra emphasis on other guys and he really frees up the team because he’s got so much ability running and catching the football.”
Bell, as head coach, led Valdosta State to an unbeaten season this past year and the Division II national championship. His offense at Valdosta led the nation in scoring (52.0 ppg), ranked second in first downs (341) and was fourth in total offense (523.9 ypg), red-zone offense (.901) and pass efficiency (167.37).
He has been around the block, coaching at various levels of college ball plus the CFL and high school. In addition to his many stops along the way as a coach, he also carved out a professional playing career which lasted over a decade.
Although he may have a history of offensive success, he’ll have a short timeline to start seeing success under head coach Charlie Strong or it may be a foregone conclusion before USF ever begins American Conference play, that this will be Strong’s final year and would likely Bells, as well.
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