Trailing No. 17 Wisconsin 20-10 to open the fourth quarter of USF’s 27-10 loss, sophomore quarterback Mike White hiked the ball and quickly looked roughly 15 yards down the left side of the field where he saw redshirt freshman fullback Kennard Swanson wide open.
Swanson hauled in White’s pass and raced 52 yards down the left sideline until he was met by freshman safety Lubern Figaro at the Wisconsin 17-yard line.
Rather than going out of bounds, Swanson lowered his shoulder and leaned in to take the tackle head on.
Figaro delivered a hit that left Swanson writhing in pain and the ball free on the turf where redshirt freshman Hayden Biegel quickly scooped it up.
Swanson’s fumble, which coach Willie Taggart said broke the team’s back, exemplified a second half that was riddled with mistakes by the Bulls.
“It was a nice play and we got it down there in the red zone and it could’ve really changed the momentum of that football game,” Taggart said. “We could have punched it in there and have been within three points in that ballgame.”
Swanson’s fumble marked the second turnover by the Bulls in a game where Taggart said the Bulls’ own mistakes did them in.
“You can’t beat a top-25 team with 11 penalties and two turnovers, at their place,” Taggart said. “Hard to beat a team like that.”
After entering halftime with a 3-3 tie with the Badgers, USF was outscored 24-7 and outgained by 122 yards in the second half.
In addition to turnovers, USF limited its offensive production with penalties.
The Bulls incurred 11 penalties for 90 yards compared to the Badgers’ four penalties for 35.
“That’s one of the things we have to learn is how to do as a football team is keep the intensity up and keep matching them,” Taggart said. “We left too many plays out there, especially on third down. A lot of penalties came on third down and extended plays for them and I thought it wore us down.”
While the Bulls’ offense struggled to find consistency throughout the game, the defense was able to hold the Badgers without a touchdown until the third quarter.
The Bulls contained running back Melvin Gordon by bringing several defenders to the ball on each play to ensure no tackles were missed.
“Our guys played with great technique and fundamentals,” Taggart said. “I know in the first half, you saw eight, nine guys on the ball every time the guy was getting tackled. In the second half, you saw a lot of broken tackles.”
Gordon was limited to 50 yards on 17 carries in the first half, but was able to rush for 131 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries to finish the game.
“We played with a lot of passion and effort,” junior safety Jamie Byrd said. “We had the running back a little confused and he was a little frustrated, but in the second half we gave up a couple of big runs.”
Those big runs may have had to do with adjustments that the Wisconsin offense made at halftime, which the Bulls couldn’t counter.
“In the first half, I think we were getting great penetration,” sophomore safety Nate Godwin said. “We were filling the gaps, everyone was swarming to the ball. In the second half, I think they adjusted a bit and they picked up some blocks they weren’t getting in the first half.”
Despite the loss, White said he wouldn’t have changed anything about how the Bulls played Saturday.
“I have no regrets in this game,” White said. “We made the plays we needed to make, we didn’t back down, we fought and I’m proud of my boys for that.”