Cougars nearly shut out Bulls

Quarterback Steven Bench and the USF offense were unable to find the end zone in the 27-3 loss. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

A 33-yard field goal from senior kicker Marvin Kloss late in the third quarter was the only thing preventing USF from being shut out for the first time at Raymond James Stadium.

The Bulls struggled to find any rhythm throughout the game, falling 27-3 to Houston in front of 15,435 people Saturday.

Taggart named quarterback Steven Bench as the starter shortly before the game, but the junior was unable to generate any touchdowns. Taggart didn’t commit to a starting quarterback for the Bulls’ next game at SMU.

“We’re going to go back and evaluate this film and get back to practice,” Taggart said. “I don’t think Steven did anything to lose the game or anything like that — I thought he did some good things for us out there — we just didn’t play well overall, offensively. I go back to not being able to run the football. I don’t care who’s at quarterback, if we can’t run the football, it’s going to be hard for us.”

Bench finished the game with 12-for-25 passing for 147 yards and an interception, but only had five first-half attempts. 

Taggart opened up competition for the quarterback position throughout the week due to ineffective play at the position from sophomore quarterback Mike White. 

He said his decision to start Bench didn’t come down to his playmaking abilities. 

“I thought our offense needed a spark,” Taggart said. “I love Steven’s leadership. I love his confidence, which I thought we needed.”

Taggart said the offense’s inability to produce points once again came down to unforced errors and mental mistakes. 

“We’re not that good of a football team to make those mistakes,” Taggart said. “We can’t drop passes and we can’t be on first and 15 and expect to be a good football team. He made some good throws and guys have to catch the football.”

USF finished the game with five penalties for 45 yards, compared to Houston’s one penalty for five yards. 

Because the offense was only able to move the ball past Houston’s 49-yard line once in the first half, USF’s defense was eventually worn down and Houston took advantage. 

“I think we were just wearing down as a defense,” junior safety Jamie Byrd said. “We didn’t make as many tackles and we let them slip loose.”

But while the offense’s difficulty to keep the ball wore the defense down, the Bulls’ inability to stop Houston on third down extended their drives and tired out the team. The Cougars converted eight of 15 third downs. 

“We actually handled them; we just have to stop them on third down,” senior linebacker Reshard Cliett said. “There were a couple of third downs where guys didn’t wrap up and they stayed on the field.”

With the loss, USF has dropped four of its past five games and must win out to qualify for a bowl game. 

Following the game, Taggart said that fans need to stay invested in the program despite the lack
of wins. 

“Tell them I understand that,” Taggart said. “Tell them to keep the expectation up, keep the fire. That’s one of the great things about this job is that we have a passionate fan base. One of the reasons we’re going to get out of this and get to where we’re going is because of that. If we didn’t have that with our fan base, I don’t think we stand a chance.”

But for senior players such as Cliett, the mounting losses are becoming more difficult to swallow as the weeks go on. 

“It’s tough,” Cliett said. “It’s not really that fun taking losses. We just have to stay positive and keep bringing the young guys along.”