Facing the No.14 Miami at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, USF found itself bombarded by the Hurricanes as they stormed the field.
The Bulls (0-4) were safe in the eye of it all within the first six minutes of play but that didn’t last long as the Hurricanes kept piling it on in the 49-21 USF loss.
Sitting just outside the eye of a hurricane is where the wind is at its fastest, and Miami’s high-powered offense was no different, totaling 251 yards of offense by the end of the first quarter, pacing the Hurricanes for 1,004 yards by the end of the game.
“We didn’t execute,” USF coach Willie Taggart said. “We came into this game knowing that they’re a big-play team and we let guys get behind us. Not one time, quite a few. That’s the most frustrating part.”
By halftime, the ‘Canes (4-0) averaged a first down per play compared to the Bulls who averaged just over five yards.
Big passes were the theme for Miami early on.
Quarterback Stephen Morris opened up the game on its first drive with a 24-yard strike down the field. A couple of runs, one for 17-yards and an 18-yard pass later, the Hurricanes managed a goal line run to end their 2:59 second drive with a touchdown.
USF answered back with a drive of its own — one that took five plays for 75 yards in 2:49 seconds, ending on goal line touchdown run by senior running back Marcus Shaw, who broke off on a 44-yard run two plays earlier.
That drive also featured sophomore quarterback Steven Bench, who played his first full game of football since high school. The Penn State transfer debuted throwing a 17-yard pass to receiver Chris Dunkley.
It would be his only pass of the quarter and the rushing touchdown would make for USF’s only offensive points until two seconds left in the game.
“I was excited,” Bench said. “I was happy to be out there every play. It was a big deal. You get a bunch of snaps under your belt and that always helps. You can’t coach experience.”
After the USF score, Morris opened Miami’s drive with a 55-yard pass and ended the drive with a 19-yard touchdown.
Morris later stepped out of the game, allowing backup Ryan Williams to come in. Morris is said to be fine, but according to the Palm Beach Post, the quarterback called USF a “dirty” team, accusing them of foul play in pile-ups.
“It is what it is,” Morris said. “I wanted to score 70 points on them. They disrespected us, so I had no respect for them. At that point, I felt like we should just keep pushing it, keep killing them.”
From then on the wreckage continued at Ray Jay and though Taggart said the team didn’t quit at sight of the scoreboard, fans seemed to.
With the fourth quarter opening as USF trailed 49-7, the student section was nearly empty. The rest of the stadium displayed an overwhelming number of orange shirts in support of Miami as Bulls fans exited.
“We have to keep working,” Taggart said. “Positive thinking won’t get you anywhere, but it will get you a lot farther than negative thinking… We can’t worry about everybody else. Everybody else isn’t playing. Everybody else isn’t on the field. We have to worry about us and we have to take care of things.”
Taggart’s list of “things” to take care of is abstract, with consistency and trust being the focal points, he said.
Where USF’s defense showed its strength with senior linebacker DeDe Lattimore causing two Miami fumbles on USF’s goal line, USF’s offense took over and gave the ball right back to the ‘Canes.
After the first fumble, Bench, who had been taking hits or scrambling nearly every time he dropped back (sacked five times), took a sack in USF’s end zone and fumbled. Miami recovered the ball for a touchdown.
The touchdown made for the sixth time a defense has scored on USF through four games so far this season.
“(Bench) has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long and that will come with more time and reps,” Taggart said. “Being a quarterback, I know if you get hit a few times, you start to release that ball earlier.”
After the next fumble USF went three and out, electing to punt on fourth down. Redshirt sophomore Mattias Ciabatti shanked the ball resulting in an astonishing two-yard punt out of USF’s own end zone, making ESPN’s “Not Top 10” list.
As far as trust goes, Taggart said it’s not there when it comes to his coaching scheme.
Deep ball after deep ball, both Morris and Williams lit up USF’s secondary for 375 yards total through the air with three touchdowns.
It was very similar to last season’s 40-9 loss in Miami where Morris threw for 417-yards and three touchdowns.12