ANNAPOLIS, Md. — It didn’t take long for things to get out of hand in USF’s 35-3 loss to Navy on Saturday.
A 67-yard scramble by Midshipmen quarterback Malcolm Perry, a 58-yard rush by Jamale Carothers, a 23-yard halfback-option pass from CJ Williams — the only pass Navy completed the entire afternoon — and just like that, Navy was up by three scores after just four possessions.
“That’s what you can’t do when you’re playing an option team — you’ve got to take responsibility,” coach Charlie Strong said. “The quarterback broke free on the -yard run, then the fullback had a big run, then we’re trying to run up on the pitch, and then they throw the ball above our head.”
That isn’t to say the Bulls (3-4, 1-2) were without their chances against Navy (5-1, 3-1). Four of USF’s nine drives prior to the fourth quarter started in Midshipmen territory.
USF just wasn’t able to do anything with those chances, and playing with an injured quarterback in redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud (wrist/shoulder) didn’t help.
“We tried to get him out there, just trying to get him to go and execute,” Strong said. “It was just tough on him.”
McCloud was 11-of-23 for 50 yards and one interception. Meanwhile, walk-on Kirk Rygol was 4-of-7 for 64 yards after replacing McCloud midway through the fourth quarter.
“I just fought through it for my team,” McCloud said. “I was all right. I was able to play — not [to] my best ability, but I’ve just got to keep getting better every week.”
The decision to insert Rygol wasn’t something Strong and his staff made lightly.
“We thought about it, and then he kept saying he’s OK,” Strong said, “and then you see one of the passes he threw, we knew he wasn’t OK. And now we’ve got to go with Rygol, and Rygol will be OK. We’ve just got to get him enough reps.”
Still, though, the plan going forward appears to be sticking with McCloud despite injury.
“We’ve got to see where Jordan is and just try to get him healthy,” Strong said. “He’s not healthy. He wasn’t healthy last week [against BYU], and him bouncing back this week. We’ve got to get our best player out there on the field, and he, right now, he gives us the best chance to win.”
One of the chances the Bulls weren’t able to convert was what looked to be an interception return for a touchdown by defensive back KJ Sails. The touchdown was called back due to an illegal block in the back call against defensive end Greg Reaves.
“Just a bonehead mistake,” Reaves said. “Just a bad call by me.”
The ensuing drive resulted in what proved to be the Bulls’ only points Saturday, a 33-yard field goal by Spencer Shrader.
While the Bulls’ defense didn’t play lights out — it ultimately surrendered 457 yards, almost all of them rushing — it did force three turnovers.
“We got three turnovers,” defensive back Patrick Macon said. “Sometimes they caught us out of whack. But I mean, at the end of the day, you know, it’s still not our defense, I would say. We still performed, I would say, it’s average — we could still get better.”
With a rather daunting schedule ahead — the Bulls remain on the road to face ECU next Saturday before coming home to play Temple, Cincinnati and Memphis before finishing the regular season against UCF — USF will have to have a short memory.
But Strong thinks things will be fine.
“We’ll be OK,” Strong said. “We’ll be able to bounce back. I mean, they have no choice. But we’ll be all right. We’ve got to go to East Carolina, we’ve got to play well, and then we’re back at home. So we’ll bounce back. I’m not concerned about that.”