Notebook: First-down inefficiency hurt Bulls against Houston

After its 28-24 loss to Houston on Saturday, USF is unranked but still has a chance to get the the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.

USF, now unranked for the first time in 2017, was unable to consistently produce positive yardage on first-down runs in its 28-24 loss against Houston on Saturday.

The Bulls (7-1, 4-1) ran the ball 21 of 36 times on first downs and netted only 12 yards on first-down runs. In the first quarter, the Bulls totaled minus-2 rushing yards on first downs — which set them up with second- and third-down plays with 10-plus yards to go.

“They loaded the box on us, which prevented us from getting the big long runs,” coach Charlie Strong said. “We were able to get the 3 or 4 yards, but we weren’t able to just go get the chunk yards.”

The Bulls had nine first-down plays go for negative yardage — one-fourth of the first-down plays they ran.

In a teleconference Monday, Houston coach Major Applewhite said their game plan on defense against USF was to keep everything in front of them, and the Cougars did just that — starting by limiting the Bulls on first-down plays. In all of the downs, the Bulls converted only six plays of 20 yards or more and were held to 2.5 yards per rush.

New Year’s Six Bowl still a possibility

Despite USF football’s loss to Houston, the Bulls still have an opportunity to play in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl if they win out in their next three regular-season games and AAC championship.

USF will have to beat No. 15 UCF (7-0) in the last regular season game and No. 22 Memphis (7-1) in the AAC Championship game, as well as handling Tulsa (2-7) and UConn (3-5) in its next two games. Wins over UCF and Memphis would give USF the highest ranking among non-power-five schools, earning it an automatic bid to the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, played on New Year’s Day.

Bulls in the NFL

Former USF running back Marlon Mack scored the second touchdown of his 2017 rookie season as an Indianapolis Colt on Sunday.  The touchdown was 24-yard reception in the third quarter's final seconds. With Indianapolis’ No. 2 running back, Robert Turbin, out with an injury, Mack has been promoted behind starter Frank Gore.

Rodney Adams, a former USF wide receiver who played last season, has been released by the Minnesota Vikings. Adams, who was drafted by the Vikings in the fifth, excelled in the preseason with nine catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns, but hadn't appeared in a regular-season game in 2017. Other teams will be able to sign Adams immediately.