This was a game that looked nearly impossible on paper. One of the best teams in the AAC was going up against an underperforming USF offense.
It had the predetermined signs of a blowout.
But it wasn’t, as USF gave No. 17 Cincinnati a scare in what was ultimately a 20-17 Bearcats victory Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
Field goals — or lack thereof
A total of seven field goals were attempted — only three of them were made.
Two were by Cincinnati’s kicker Sam Crosa — one with 3:47 left in the third quarter. The other the game-winner as time expired.
USF freshman kicker Spencer Shrader attempted the remaining five field goals.
Shrader only made one of them.
His performance was the low point of the night, but it’s not something that can be blamed entirely for the loss.
In fact, his teammates showed him nothing but their support.
“We all had our arms around him,” senior tight end Mitchell Wilcox said. “We love Spencer. He’s a great kicker.”
It’s not easy to rely on a kicker that isn’t at his best. With junior Coby Weiss making his way back from an injury, there wasn’t a replacement on the bench.
Things just didn’t go Shrader’s way and that took its toll on the team.
McCloud and offensive line have a solid performance
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud finally looks comfortable throwing the football. He threw for a career-high 267 yards on Saturday, going 18-of-27.
Saturday was also McCloud’s second consecutive game in which he threw for more than 200 yards.
The offensive line also contributed to his performance, as he was only sacked once, which is a stark contrast to last week’s loss to Temple when McCloud was sacked nine times.
McCloud seems to have traded his comfort — his running game — for his ability to throw. He only ran for 13 yards on 10 attempts against the Bearcats.
But it seems he’s learning to play in sync with the inconsistent ebb and flow of his offensive line. He’s also throwing the football with more comfort, which is just as important.
A trio of milestones
With a touchdown reception in the third quarter, Wilcox tied Marquez Valdez-Scantling for No. 8 on USF’s all-time touchdown reception list with 11.
Wilcox’s 29 receiving yards Saturday also moved him into the top 10 in in program history with 1,314 career yards.
Additionally, senior running back Jordan Cronkrite not only entered the program’s top 10 in career rushing yards Saturday, he moved into the No. 8-spot (1,808) with his 78-yard performance.
There’s no question the offense has struggled at times this season, but there have also been bright spots as well. Cronkrite and Wilcox have certainly been those as the season has progressed.
It’s do-or-die for bowl-game eligibility
The Bulls have no room left for error if they want bowl eligibility. USF faces No. 18 Memphis on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, followed by a trip to UCF to close out the season.
Prior to the Cincinnati game, the Bulls had that wiggle room, albeit not much. They could afford one loss.
It’s gone now.
If USF doesn’t win its next two games, the Bulls will miss out on a bowl game for the first time since 2014.
More importantly, coach Charlie Strong’s late-season goal of getting his seniors to a bowl game will be a bust.
Unfortunately for USF, a trip to a bowl game now looks next to impossible.