A tough but predictable end to the USF 2018 football season happened Thursday night in Tampa. And, it was the final reminder of: not only where the Bulls were a year ago, but how much work there is to be done, if they want to get back to real relevancy.
When the Clock struck 0:00 at Raymond James Stadium to end the Gasparilla Bowl, the scoreboard read Marshall 38 USF 20. And, it was a sobering final defeat for the second season for Charlie Strong’s program.
Sobering, because USF became the first school in FBS history to win their first seven games and then lose out with six straight the rest of the way.
Sobering, because in the short-term, USF had a month to prepare for a game at home-in their home stadium, and yet, were completely outplayed in the first 30 minutes (above) falling behind 28 – 7.
Further so sobering, because their defense, which is supposed to be Strong’s forte’, was nowhere to be found for much of the night. This, as Marshall racked up 503 yards including 282 of them on the ground and pulled away.
And no, this was not a Power 5 program with big-time elite athletes. Yes, Marshall has a proven program out of Conference USA and this was their seventh straight Bowl win, by the way. However, it’s not a program littered with four and five star recruits. Yet, they ran over, around and past Bulls defenders all night.
As this video from Tampa Bay Times beat writer Joey Knight showed late Thursday evening, Strong looked shell-shocked and had very few answers about how far and quickly USF dropped off this season:
— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) December 21, 2018
We can’t say at F.F.I. that we were surprised as USF’s free fall, as we were writing about how suspect the Bulls unbeaten record was looking every week all throughout September and early October. The Bulls were repeatedly playing poorly and beating bad teams, barely in the 4th quarter.
It obviously caught up to them, big time, when the better competition came around at the end of the year, and the Bulls never recovered.
So the Strong and his returning players head into the offseason, having gotten two or three really good recruits on the early signing day Wednesday. And, having some hope that they can put pieces together this spring and next summer to be ready for 2019.
However, even the most staunch supporters of the Green and Gold football program would have to admit: as much as they were jacked after a bowl win over Texas Tech last year and back-to-back 10 win seasons, this is the 180 degree exact opposite.
Six straight losses to end the year is a “cold water in the face” reality delivered one final time by the Marshall Thundering Herd.
There is a lot of work to do, beginning now.
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.
Bulls QB Barnett will maintain starting spot against Georgia Tech
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.
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