USF entered the second half of Friday’s game in a nearly identical situation to the one it was in against Tulsa – trailing by multiple touchdowns on the road – but was unable to pull out the comeback this time, resulting in a 34-17 loss.
The Bulls seemed to be starting another second-half turnaround after Cincinnati running back Rod Moore
fumbled the ball on the Bearcats’ 12-yard line only four plays into the third quarter.
USF trailed Cincinnati 20-3, but with the ball only 12 yards from the end zone, the Bulls were set up in prime position to whittle the deficit down.
However, the Bulls’ first offensive play of the drive resulted in a fumbled snap by sophomore quarterback Mike White. The fumble was his second of the day and coach Willie Taggart decided to pull him from the game.
“(White) thought coming out of halftime he would get over it like last week,” Taggart said. “The defense got a turnover to start the second half off to get us going and we fumbled the snap again. We just weren’t in it.”
The Bulls’ defense, which has been the strongest unit this year, gave up 590 yards, including 273 on the ground. Even after that performance, Cincinnati is ranked only 92nd in the country out of 125 FBS schools in rushing yards per game.
“Never in a million years did I think they would run for that many yards on us,” Taggart said. “We didn’t do a good job of stopping the run and we didn’t do a good job of stopping the pass. We just didn’t play well defensively.”
The defense had a difficult time stopping every aspect of the Bearcats’ offense, but the USF offense’s inability to keep control of the ball was the team’s ultimate undoing.
“We didn’t execute,” Taggart said. “We fumbled snaps. We threw picks. We did things that you can’t do when you’re trying to win a football game against a good football team.”
White struggled holding on to the ball, fumbling it four times. Two of his fumbles were recovered, but the damage was done. The sophomore quarterback had difficulty regaining his confidence.
“I thought Mike got too down on himself,” Taggart said. “Even after we talked to him, he was really ticked off. He was mad; he felt like he was hurting the team. You can’t be that way; you have to stay locked into the game and think about those things after the game.”
Against Tulsa in Week 7, White threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns. Taggart said the reason for White’s inability to hold on to the ball against the Bearcats may have been due to his composure.
“The only difference I saw is him getting down on himself and punishing himself before the game is even over with,” Taggart said. “You can’t win games when your quarterback feels that way.”
White ended the day with four turnovers and 92 yards on 11-for-19 passing.
Bench replaced White for the remainder of the game and he finished with 147 yards and two touchdowns on 9-for-14 passing.
Taggart said despite the quarterback switch, White will still be the starting quarterback for the Bulls when they host Houston on Saturday.
Bench, who was previously demoted as starter, offered his advice to White after the game.
“I’ve been in those shoes before and it’s no fun, there’s no doubt about it,” Bench said. “But the thing you do is you wake up the next morning and you get to work. Don’t let this beat you twice. That goes for a lot of things, in football and life.”