In USF’s first six games of 2017, its defense gave up a combined total of 34 points in the second half.
In the Bulls’ last two games against Tulane and Houston, the defense allowed more points than the first six games combined, yielding the two a total of 56 second-half points.
“I know the scores have kind of picked up in the second half, but it’s really come down to fundamental errors more than just defensive assignments and stuff like that,” defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary said. “It’s been more tackling and getting off blocks.”
Two weeks ago, the Green Wave lost to USF by only six points despite trailing 20-7 at halftime.
In handing USF its first loss Saturday, Houston scored all 28 of its points in the second half. The Bulls gave up four plays of 30-plus yards in the second half against Houston, opposed to none in the first.
Though it was numerous plays for Houston that ultimately propelled them to a 28-24 win over USF, its final touchdown drive that ended with 11 seconds is what did the Bulls in.
Down 24-21, Houston had one timeout and the ball on its own 49-yard line, with 1:46 left in the game to score. At first, USF’s defense stifled Houston, stopping two runs for a loss of 14 yards and forcing an incompletion on the drive’s first three plays.
Then, on 4th-and-24, the Cougars converted after a scrambling D’Eriq King lofted and completed a pass to Courtney Lark for a 30-yard gain. Three plays later, the Bulls were still very-much in control of the game.
Now with no timeouts, Houston had a 3rd-and-9 from the USF 20-yard line with 19 seconds to play.
That’s when King rolled out to the left to pass on third down, but decided to tuck the ball, and he successfully ran a 20-yard touchdown to win the Cougars the game.
“It was an unbelievable play by that kid,” Jean-Mary said. “He kind of improvised and we probably overplayed that scenario. He cut back and it’s a 50/50 bang-bang play. If we tackle him before he gets to the first down, the game’s probably over.”
With only six seconds to work with once they got the ball back, USF’s offense picked up 30 yards on the last play of the game, but was significantly short of the end zone.
“They made the big plays to win,” coach Charlie Strong said.
Facing UConn and it’s 51st ranked offense Saturday, a poor second half could be what costs the Bulls. Only Houston (44th) has a better offense of the Bulls’ 2017 opponents.
“They’re a very talented team,” Jean-Mary said. “I think the quarterback Shirreffs is playing at a very-very high level and they’ve kind of gotten into a groove where he knows where his big targets are and how they want to attack people.
“They were just trying to figure things out early, but you can tell now who he’s really comfortable with throwing the ball to and what plays they feel like can really get some positive yards for them.”