Inexcusable. Inefficient. Unwatchable.
No matter how you describe it, USF’s 35-17 loss at Maryland on Saturday was nothing short of a disaster.
Forget all the encouraging signs the Bulls showed by hanging with No. 9 Florida State in Tallahassee last weekend, their ineptitude against one of the Big Ten’s bottom-feeders made a loud statement:
This team is not ready for center stage.
Coming off a blowout loss to Bowling Green, the Terrapins looked as vulnerable as ever heading into Saturday’s game.
They shuffled the quarterbacks, opting to start junior Caleb Rowe over the struggling Perry Hills. They had allowed Bowling Green, a mid-tier team out of the MAC, to rack up more than 200 rushing yards. They even allowed the Falcons to score 48 points.
On paper, everything seemed ready to fall into place for USF.
Coach Willie Taggart would finally earn that long-awaited signature victory.
Questions about sophomore quarterback Quinton Flowers’ ability to be the long-term starter would finally be affirmed.
The program itself would finally garner the respectability it has desperately sought with a victory over a Power Five opponent for the first time since 2011.
But when game time rolled around, the Bulls rolled over.
Sure, there were a couple positives.
Nursing a sore hamstring, USF junior defensive back Devin Abraham was stellar, intercepting a pass in the first half to set up a touchdown that gave the Bulls an early advantage. Jamie Byrd and Deatrick Nichols also picked off Rowe.
The rest, however, was a bit of a joke.
There were 10 penalties, three fumbles and three interceptions.
A long, would-be touchdown pass from Flowers to a wide-open Rodney Adams in the second quarter somehow managed to slip through his fingers.
Then, in one of the most dumbfounding calls of his two-plus-year tenure, Taggart pulled Flowers after he led the Bulls on a 17-play, 69-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter in favor of senior backup Steven Bench.
How did Bench respond? By throwing an interception to Terps defender Sean Davis at midfield. Four plays later, Maryland scored its fifth and final touchdown.
“(Bench) was going to come in and start the second series of that second half, and that was the second series,” Taggart said of the decision. “We told him we were going to put him in and we stuck to our word.”
Good call, coach. Local Pop Warner coaches are surely taking note of your generosity.
It’s hard to see how this situation gets better, especially with meetings against reigning AAC co-champion Memphis and Syracuse coming up.
If Saturday’s gut-punch is any indication of what’s to come, USF Athletic Director Mark Harlan might be jumbling together a search committee and stepping to the podium in December to introduce a new face to lead this team.
“Our guys still don’t know how to win yet,” said Taggart, who fell to 7-20 overall at USF. “We’ve got to continue to find ways for those guys to make those winning plays so we can win ball games like that.”
There is some good news, though — the Bulls are idle this week.
Just don’t be surprised if the bettors in Las Vegas favor the bye week by at least a touchdown.