The USF football team gave up 10 points in the first five minutes and 17 in the first quarter of play and were unable to recover, falling 17-9 Saturday to the Memphis Tigers.
The loss drops the Bulls to 1-2 on the season.
Coach Jim Leavitt said he was impressed his team was able to come close to winning after giving up a big first period.
?We spot them 17 points in the first quarter. The fact that we battled back the way we did, I thought was as courageous of an effort as I?ve ever seen out of a South Florida team,? Leavitt said.
The Bulls came close to pulling off a comeback. With one minute, six seconds left in the game, the Bulls took the ball deep in their own territory and moved more than 80 yards to the Memphis 2-yard line. On the final play of the game, quarterback Marquel Blackwell?s pass to Huey Whittaker was knocked away, securing a Memphis victory. Leavitt said the final play was a good call, but, like much of the game, the Bulls could not execute.
?We just missed it,? he said. ?There were a lot of other plays, though, in that game. We had a lot of chances.?
The Bulls? offense put up similar numbers to their game two weeks ago against Pittsburgh, gaining 400 yards against the Tigers. Of those yards, 124 came on the ground, led by Clenton Crossley?s 50 yards, against a team that had the nation?s best rushing defense in 2000.
Unlike the Pittsburgh game, however, in which the offense scored five touchdowns, the offense was unable to find the end zone against Memphis. Leavitt said the Bulls were hindered by penalties and four crucial turnovers.
?We moved the ball pretty well … They?re a decent defense,? he said. ?We had two touchdowns called back by penalties.?
Blackwell went 25-of-61 for 276 yards and threw three interceptions. While Blackwell?s passing numbers were decent, he was only able to find standout wide receiver DeAndrew Rubin one time. After having 144 receiving yards against Pittsburgh, Rubin had just six against Memphis. Despite the turnovers, Leavitt said Blackwell played hard throughout the contest.
?Marquel didn?t play as good as he can in the first half,? he said. ?I thought he came back and battled and really did a good job at the end.?
In addition to penalties and turnovers, the Bulls were also hurt by the kicking game.
Santiago Gramatica missed a field goal and an extra point, and the Bulls also had a fake field goal stopped for no gain.
However, the Bulls? defense had another good showing. After giving up all 17 Memphis points in the first quarter and allowing 274 yards in the first half, the defense clamped down, allowing just 51 yards in the final two quarters. The defense also accounted for the Bulls? only touchdown, which came when sophomore defensive end Shurron Pierson recovered a fumble and ran 15 yards to the end zone with just 34 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Bulls forced Memphis into four turnovers in the game.
?(The defense) didn?t play well in the first quarter,? Leavitt said. ?But they got better.?
The scoring began just a minute into the game as Memphis drove quickly down the field and scored on a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Travis Anglin to Jeff Sanders. Ryan White added a field goal just three minutes later.
After moving the ball well again, Memphis scored with one minute remaining in the first quarter on a one-yard Dante Brown run. The scoring completed an impressive first quarter for the Tigers, in which they utilized the spread offense to execute several big plays and keep the Bulls off balance.
The Bulls added a Gramatica 27-yard field goal with 3:17 left in the third quarter to their fumble return to complete the scoring.
USF threatened often in the final period, outplaying Memphis and nearly stealing the victory. Leavitt said the Bulls? mistakes were too many to overcome.
?We didn?t deserve to win this game because we just didn?t play good enough,? he said. ?You can?t expect to win a ballgame and make as many mistakes as we did. The fact that we were in there and had a chance to win at the end with all the mistakes we made was really remarkable.?
Rob Brannon covers football and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org