Saturday was supposed to be a day where USF coach Charlie Strong demonstrated, off a bye week, that his team could rebound and would take advantage of a fresh start to the season, as conference play began.
Unfortunately for Strong and the Bulls, just like their season-opening wipeout loss at home to Wisconsin, his team was blown away, again, this time 48-21 by the SMU Mustangs.
SMU absolutely routed the Bulls defense with five first-half touchdowns, including three TD passes by Strong’s former quarterback at Texas, Shane Buechele, as the Ponies built a 34 – 0 lead.
When Buechele, who sat last year as a transfer and SMU got the ball for the first time in the third quarter, they marched a quick 50 yards for another score. It was 41 – zip and SMU had emptied out Raymond James Stadium.
Yes, they had to play the last quarter and a half and the Bulls (now 1-3) inserted veteran backup Blake Barnett, because freshman starter Jordan McCloud had an injured wrist. And, Barnett got the team in the end zone during “garbage time” with three touchdowns.
But, make no mistake, USF was awful most of Saturday.
And now, the larger questions that will keep coming are: has Strong essentially given up coaching and motivating his team? And if not, how are they this bad all of a sudden?
Remember that they won 10 games and a bowl game in Strong’s first season. That was with former coach Willie Taggart’s players.
The struggles now, date back to a 7 – 0 start a year ago, where USF then lost the last five games in the regular season and next, their bowl game.
That was eyebrow-raising enough, but when the Bulls opened with the Big Ten powerhouse Badgers and were destroyed 49 – 0 to start the year, whispers became loud voices that Strong wasn’t cut out to turn things around.
It is no secret that Strong has complained for two years about everything from how USF travels, to not having an indoor practice facility, to not having an on-campus football stadium and having to play at the 65,000 seat Raymond James Stadium. That’s where at least half of the seats are empty for most of their games.
It’s also no secret that this is the first year where USF is completely on the hook to pay Strong and that he had to take a pay cut from the $4 million plus per year that Texas was still paying him the first two years of his USF deal.
The Bulls followed up the awful debut with Wisconsin by losing to a bad Georgia Tech Team in Atlanta in game two. Then, the freshman McLeod gave some spark and optimism with how he played two weeks ago against FCS, Savannah State.
However, off the off week, the Bulls had no answers on offense in the first half of this game with SMU, while being held scoreless.
Yes, the Ponies are a great story, as they improved to 5 – 0 for the first time since Eric Dickerson and the “Pony Express” backfield of 1983.
But, the larger story is how big of a problem does USF now have with a coach that either isn’t interested, or in some combination, doesn’t know how to, get their season turned around in his third year?
Strong walked slowly to midfield to shake SMU coach Sonny Dykes’ hand when it was over, with a blank look on his face. He didn’t even make eye contact with Dykes, as Dykes said something to Strong.
That moment summed Saturday up.
And, 41-0 in the third quarter Saturday said a lot, too.
Clemson offensive coordinator Jeff Scott about to get USF job?
The USF coaching search appears that it might be close to concluding. This with Sunday night reports surfacing that the Bulls will reach a deal with Clemson co-offensive coordinator, Jeff Scott.
The website, The Clemson Insider reported Sunday night that Bulls athletic director Michael Kelly has tabbed the 38 year old Scott as his top target to replace Charlie Strong, who was fired a week ago:
All signs point to Jeff Scott to South Florida https://t.co/1XraC4ZBTZ
— TheClemsonInsider (@ClemsonInsider) December 9, 2019
After struggling on the offensive end, it was thought that the Bulls would pursue a coach with an offensive background. And Scott fits the bill.
The Bulls would be doing that if they land one of the men in charge of one of the most prolific offenses over the past few years in college football. Scott, his QB Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers destroyed Virginia in the ACC title game 62-17 Saturday night.
This appears to be a big hire for the Bulls and a bit unexpected. It is known that Clemson assistants don’t move often. Aside from former offensive coordinator, Chad Morris, all other assistants stay in Death Valley. This includes guys that have been highly targeted in Tony Elliot and Brent Venables.
Scott is Clemson through and through, as he played for the Tigers in the early 2000s for three years and returned to become a coach for the Tigers in 2008. Since then, he has been a receiver’s coach, recruiting coordinator, and now to co-offensive coordinator.
Something USF fans can be excited about is Scott’s successes with wide receivers. He has helped develop some great NFL prospects like DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Williams. He currently has one of the best groups in the country.
After years of the inconsistent offense, it appears that the Bulls leaders felt a change was needed.
Scott would bring knowledge of coaching from Clemson, as well as his stint as a high school coach. His father Brad, was also a coach in college, spending time as an offensive coordinator himself at Florida State, then onto South Carolina, and settling at Clemson.
Add all of this together, and the Bulls may just have “the next big thing” to come into the AAC and make an impact.
A conference that has springboarded coaches into Power 5 positions like Scott Frost two years ago to Nebraska and Memphis’ Mike Norvell to FSU Sunday.
Without getting too far ahead, it appears the Bulls are going to make a strong assistant coach hire, who has the chance to make a great splash quickly.
USF fires head coach Charlie Strong
It’s official… Charlie Strong has coached his final game as the USF head football coach. The news comes just two days after the Bulls humiliating 34-7 loss to rival UCF in the War on I-4 on Friday.
BREAKING: Staff members at USF being informed Charlie Strong is out, per source.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) December 1, 2019
Confirmed: Charlie Strong out at #USF
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) December 1, 2019
Strong was hired in December of 2016 after being let go from Texas. In his first year in Tampa, he went 10-2 in year one after inheriting a star-studded roster from former head coach Willie Taggart.
Since then, the Strong era has been anything but strong for the past season and a half. Their most recent loss to rival UCF was their fourth straight to end the year and Strong’s team limped to the finish line at 4 – 8.
Strong entered the year with lots of speculation and it only grew worse when they opened the season with a humiliating 49 – 0 loss to Wisconsin. That led to a road loss at lowly Georgia Tech and being wiped out by SMU and Navy previously. Then, they were blown out at home by AAC west division champion, Memphis, 49-10 on senior day. And, that led to UCF ending their season with another rout Friday.
When you combine this season with losing the remaining six games a year ago, that’s 14 losses in the last 18 games played for Strong’s teams. Friday night was also the fifth loss by 27 points or more for USF this season.
After the game, Strong was asked whether he believed he would be back for a fourth year, to which he responded, “I have no idea.”
Since then, the media has been waiting to see if USF Athletic Director Michael Kelly, who was hired last year, would get rid of the former Texas and Louisville coach or give him one final shot to turn it around in 2020? It looks like he’s decided it would be better to start fresh and give fans something to be hopeful for heading into the off season.
Strong is reportedly owed at least $5 million for the remaining two years on his five-year deal that he agreed to in December of 2016.