The South Florida Bulls played very hard for Charlie Strong on Thursday night against Temple. Facing the one team to beat the Memphis Tigers this season, the Bulls stood up to the folks from Philadelphia.
Strong’s defense allowed only 10 points to the Temple offense. Strong’s defense hasn’t always held tough this season. Wisconsin, Navy and SMU all overwhelmed USF. However, one of the reasons the 2019 USF defense hasn’t been perfect is that it received very little help from the offense in a majority of the Bulls’ games.
If you look at the overall points-per-game average against FBS opponents, it doesn’t seem that bad on the surface: 20 points per game. No, that’s not great by any means – not even good – but 20 points would have been enough to beat Temple on Thursday. USF’s offense didn’t come close.
Scoring 20 points against Navy might have applied more scoreboard pressure on the Midshipmen’s offense. Instead, Navy cruised, 35-3, knowing it didn’t have to take risks in the second half.
A 20-point showing from coordinator Kerwin Bell’s offense would have been enough to beat Georgia Tech in September. A 20-point showing in a few games would have USF on track to play in a bowl game. We wouldn’t be discussing Charlie Strong’s job security, if USF’s offense could be more consistent – not spectacular, not even good, but merely tolerable.
The Temple 17-7 loss – despite a valiant effort from Strong’s defense – brought up a key point about that misleading points-per-game average against FBS teams. (We’re not counting the 55 points USF scored against South Carolina State of the FCS.)
USF’s 20-points-per-game average is based on two games: a 48-point explosion against a terrible UConn team, and a 45-point outburst against East Carolina, which was USF’s best overall performance of the 2019 season. Those two games produced a combined 93 points.
The other six USF games versus FBS teams this year created 68 points.
You can do the quick math and realize that in six of USF’s eight FBS games this season, the Bulls’ offense has averaged 11.3 points per game. That is a disaster.
What is Charlie Strong’s ultimate weakness as a head coach, a weakness which has USF in line to go 4-8 this season (given a closing stretch of Cincinnati, Memphis and UCF, all likely losses for a team which is currently 4-5)? It is very simple: This defensive mastermind has not been able to surround himself with top-tier offensive coordinators.
When the story of Charlie Strong’s head coaching career is written, it will begin with the bottom-line point that while Charlie did well at Louisville – which gave his career forward momentum and the chance to coach at Texas – his success at UL was built on Teddy Bridgewater being an amazing college football player.
This doesn’t mean Charlie doesn’t deserve credit for building Louisville back into a nationally relevant program after Steve Kragthorpe failed to maintain what Bobby Petrino left him roughly a decade ago. Charlie deserves that credit. However, it definitely wasn’t offensive coordinator Shawn Watson who made UL’s offense go. It was Teddy.
That reality flows into the rest of Strong’s head coaching career.
Strong took Watson with him to Texas. It very quickly became apparent that Watson was in over his head, and that Teddy made Watson, not the other way around. Strong flailed and scrambled in the attempt to find the right offensive coordinator at Texas. He eventually begged and pleaded with Sterlin Gilbert to join him, when Texas administrators pressured Strong to make changes on his offensive staff.
Gilbert did improve the Texas offense to a degree, but not enough to save Charlie’s job in Austin. Nevertheless, when Strong went to USF, he took Gilbert with him. His new offensive coordinator had earned that much.
The one year at USF which took flight under Strong was the first year. In 2017, the Bulls were AAC contenders because of a loaded offense which made Strong’s life easier. Once again, though, the reality was that the quarterback carried the offense and made the coordinator look good. It wasn’t a case of the coordinator tapping into a quarterback’s previously unlocked talent.
Quinton Flowers carried Gilbert and the USF offense that season. How do we know this? Because Gilbert floundered without Flowers the next year in 2018 Gilbert performed horribly in the late-season rivalry game against UCF, eliciting legitimate fan outrage and creating the need for a new hire.
Kerwin Bell was that hire. He had paid his dues in the profession. He did deserve a chance. Yet, Bell has plainly not made the grade this season.
We arrive at the sad but true realization that Charlie Strong has not picked high-level offensive coordinators. Head coaches – especially ones who have backgrounds as defensive coaches – have to get that hire right, more than any other hire with the possible exception of the strength and conditioning coach.
Charlie Strong’s USF tenure, and quite possibly his head coaching career, have run their course because of an inability to pick elite offensive coordinators. Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville and Quinton Flowers at USF carried Strong and his offensive coordinators. There has never been a season in which an offensive coordinator has made a defining and positive difference for one of Charlie Strong’s teams.
Get ready for another coaching search at a Florida-based FBS program.
Cincinnati last second field goal capped rally over USF
The USF Bulls did a lot of things right on Saturday night, but could not finish off 17th ranked Cincinnati. And, the Bearcats rallied for a clutch eighth consecutive win, 20 – 17.
Bearcats senior kicker Sam Crosa (above) booted a 37 yard game winning field goal with no time left, as Cincinnati rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit to improve to 6 – 0 on the American Conference season.
Crosa, who won the Bearcats games at East Carolina two weeks ago with no time left, capped an 11 play 60 yard drive in the final minute and a half of the game. That came on the heels of USF freshman kicker Spencer Shrader having missed from 32 yards out on a kick that would have allowed the Bulls to re-take the lead.
Shrader had three other costly misses in the game- all in the first half, including a 43-yarder as time ran out.
The Bulls had raced out to a 10 – 0 lead early, being led by freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud. USF went 71 yards in just eight plays on their opening drive. Trevon Sands scored on a four yard run to make it 7-0. Shrader made it 10-0 with a 28 yard field goal later in the second quarter.
USF’s defense only allowed a measly 78 yards passing and had five sacks. But, the Bearcats rally was led on the ground by Michael Warren II who tallied 134 yards and a TD. Cincy rushed for 200 yards as a team.
Cincinnati keeps its hopes alive for a potential “New Year’s Six bowl game, as they are the highest-ranked “Group of Five” conference team, currently at 17th in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Bearcats control their own destiny needing only to win their remaining two games, and they will host the American Championship game on December 7th.
With the loss, USF drops to 4 – 6 on the season and the debate about whether third-year coach Charlie Strong will keep his job continues. The Bulls have lost 12 of their last 16 games dating back to last season. They must win both of their remaining games with Memphis and UCF to go to a bowl game.
Bulls host #17 Cincinnati as part of our primer
Week 12 of college football season has arrived, and it presents us with a few interesting games and story lines. Bowl game sand coaches will be in the spotlight this week from Tallahassee all the way to Tampa.
Florida State is coming off of an emotional win last week in Boston. Now, they are a win away from becoming bowl eligible. Under the guidance of Odell Haggins, the Noles have been able to play inspired football over the three games. With Alabama State coning into town, all signs point to an FSU win.
RB Cam Akers had an off game last week but should erupt here. James Blackman was back at QB and reestablished himself as QB1. Expect the Noles to put up a lot of yards and points here and give the fans something to be happy about.
The Florida Gators will head to Missouri, looking to keep hope alive. The Gators need to win out and hope Georgia drops their last two conference games to win the SEC East. The offense rolled last week against Vandy as the defense flexed their muscles. The Tigers come in with a top 10 passing defense and will look to give Kyle Trask problems.
The Gators have struggled on the ground this season but will need RB Lamical Perine to have a good game to leave Columbia with a win. Tigers QB Kelly Bryant is expected to return this week to an offense that desperately needs him.
The Gators haven’t faced a true dual-threat quarterback like Bryant this year. The chess match between he and the defense will be something to watch. Last season Mizzou came into the Swamp and took it to the Gators. Dan Mullen would love nothing more than to return the favor this season.
USF will play host to the 17th ranked Cincinnati Bearcats. The Bulls have struggled this season to do anything on offense. On defense, the Bulls have struggled to stop the run on defense as well. Cincinnati will look to run the ball and often having the 31st ranked rushing offense. USF will be playing for bowl eligibility, needing to win two of the last three games. They are also playing for Charlie Strongs job as well.
Strong is on the hot seat, and it seems to be getting warmer by the week. The Bulls come in as home underdogs with the Bearcat’s two-touchdown favorites. The Bulls will need to empty the playbook here in need of a significant win.
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