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Rivalry game ends in first home shutout

Coach Willie Taggart said the Bulls are moving in the right direction even though the team was shut out by UCF in Friday’s 16-0 loss. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

The Bulls once ruled the USF-UCF rivalry, winning four straight games against the Knights from 2005-08. 

But in front of the Bulls’ largest crowd of the year at Raymond James Stadium — an announced 36,963 fans — the team displayed how drastically times have changed in a historic loss Friday.

The 16-0 loss marked the first-ever home shutout in program history for USF (4-8, 3-5) and ended the season for the bowl-ineligible Bulls. 

“It was very frustrating,” coach Willie Taggart said. “Our guys move the ball down there and didn’t get any points. It was frustrating for everyone. You punch it in there and get some points; it’s a different ballgame. If you don’t capitalize against a team like Central Florida, it’s going to be difficult to beat them.”

USF had first downs at the UCF 1, 14, 27 and 33-yard lines throughout the game, but was unable to score any points due to poor execution on offense. 

The Bulls found a new way to keep themselves out of the end zone each time they were on UCF’s side of the field. Penalties, a botched fake-field goal play and the team’s inability to consistently get first downs all helped hold the Bulls scoreless.

“As bad as I wanted to get in the end zone, it definitely hurts going out my last game with no points – but sometimes it happens,” senior receiver Andre Davis said. “UCF came out and played a great game. They played great on defense.”

USF converted only five of its 15 third downs and was limited to five rushing yards.

But while the Knights’ defense was able to hold the Bulls in check for the majority of the game, they still had multiple opportunities to score.

The most promising of these opportunities came after junior tight end Sean Price caught a 27-yard pass from junior quarterback Steven Bench to set up a first and goal at the UCF 1-yard line. 

After the Bulls ran for no gain on first down, Bench was sacked for a loss of seven yards and sophomore fullback Kennard Swanson incurred a personal foul for unnecessary roughness, which pushed the Bulls back 15 more yards.

“It was just a selfish penalty, a penalty that a guy just can’t make,” Taggart said. “No matter what someone says to you, you can’t do it.”

The Bulls were unable to gain any yards after the penalty, which essentially ended any attempt of a comeback, as they trailed 16-0 with five minutes remaining in the game. 

Davis said penalties such as Swanson’s are what hindered the team from competing against UCF (8-3, 6-1).

“We had a lot of chances, but we killed ourselves with penalties once again,” Davis said. “Crazy penalties, personal fouls. We just can’t do that.”

With Taggart’s second season at the helm officially concluded, he said he still believes the program is moving in the right direction, despite the outcome against the Knights.

“I think our program is moving up,” Taggart said. “We stopped the bleeding when we got here. You look where we’re at and I don’t think anyone can say this football team didn’t improve from last year.”