If Friday night’s opener against Big Ten perennial contender Wisconsin was supposed to indicate that USF had turned the chapter from a dismal finish to 2018, then coach Charlie Strong is in real trouble.
That’s because not only did the Bulls not snap out of it in front of a good home crowd on a national television stage, but they looked ill-prepared and every bit the team that lost their final six games a year ago.
Yes, for all the talk that the new 2019 version of the Bulls, in Strong’s third season, would throw haymakers with the Badgers, it turns out that USF was knocked out in the figurative first round of this game.
By the time Wisconsin was done pummeling USF, the Bulls had suffered their worst loss in program history and left Strong standing at a podium around midnight trying to explain things.
Especially, he looked blankly, trying to explain how his team could be beaten 49 – 0 after pointing to their opening battle for the last six weeks:
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) August 31, 2019
Wisconsin and their Heisman Trophy candidate running back, Jonathan Taylor, were as advertised. He was in the end zone before you could spell “Bucky Badger” to make it 7-0 early. However, it’s what didn’t happen after that for the Bulls, with a veteran quarterback in Blake Barnett, that has to dismay Green and Gold fans on Saturday morning.
USF punted on each of their first two possessions, but then Barnett was hit as he threw under pressure deep in his own territory and when Badgers lineman Matt Henningsen caught the ball in mid-air and ran it in, it was a stunning 14 – 0 start.
Still, USF could have been in the game, but under new offensive coordinator and former Gator quarterback great Kerwin Bell, they mustered absolutely nothing the rest of the first half and fell further behind.
The final tally sheet for USF’s six first-half possessions: punt, punt, interception touchdown, punt, interception and punt.
When Taylor caught a 12-yard pass from quarterback Jack Coan and scampered in the end zone with just :02 remaining, it was now 28-0 and essentially game over.
Sadly, USF showed nothing out of the locker room, punted on their first two possessions and then fumbled on their third. That’s when, Raymond James Stadium emptied out except for the Wisconsin fans that had made the trip South.
Clearly the honeymoon is over after Strong showed up with Willie Taggart’s players, including great QB Quinton Flowers and had a 10-win season winning a bowl game in 2017.
And, even with all of his struggles at Texas, he never lost a game 49 – 0.
Yes, Wisconsin is talented and came to play, but no USF obviously wasn’t ready and that’s on Strong and his staff.
So there will be plenty of outcry coming off of Labor Day weekend about Strong and his job status. They 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.
So, 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 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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