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Recap: USF loses first game of season to No. 17 Houston

USF wide receiver Stanley Clerveaux participates in pregame warmups before a game against Houston on Oct. 27. Clerveaux caught five passes for 42 yards in USF's 57-36 defeat. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

HOUSTON — USF football lost its first game since Nov. 24, 2017, on Saturday, falling to No. 17 Houston 57-36.

Houston’s 57 points were the most points given up in USF program history. Cougars QB D’eriq King torched the USF defense by racking up 553 all-purpose yards, including seven touchdowns, five of them in the air.

USF coach Charlie Strong said Saturday’s loss was “embarrassing.”

“When you lose a game the way we just lost, it was just totally embarrassing,” Strong said. “We’re a better football team than what we showed today. You can’t give up five touchdown throws, you can’t be 13-out-of-[18] on third down.

“When you play on the road, and you play a really good football team, you’ve got to be able to get turnovers and you can’t turn the ball over … it’s hard to match scores and it’s hard to play catch up.”

The Bulls found themselves down by two scores early in the game. Less than two minutes into the game, King rushed 47 yards on a keeper for the game’s first touchdown. The Bulls then went three-and-out and Houston responded with another touchdown 2:31 later.

USF eventually found its footing, stopping the Cougars on back-to-back drives before finally getting points itself on a 79-yard drive, capped by a Jordan Cronkrite one-yard touchdown.

On the first play of the ensuing Houston drive, King was intercepted by true freshman Mekhi LaPointe at the Houston 32-yard line. On the first play of the USF possession, Johnny Ford rushed up the middle for a touchdown.

The first half ended with Houston up 28-21, but the Bulls had seemingly woken up.

USF recorded the first points of the second half after King was called for intentional grounding with the ball on the Houston two-yard line. The Bulls' offense then wound up with the ball on the Houston 27-yard line after Bentlee Sanders returned the free kick 41 yards.

USF’s drive then stalled on the Houston six-yard line. Coby Weiss kicked a 23-yard field goal, bringing the Bulls to within two points.

Despite the momentum USF had due to the safety and free kick return, the 28-26 score would be the closest USF got the rest of the game, as Houston pulled away from there. The Cougars led 43-36 after the third quarter.

After the loss, quarterback Blake Barnett said he thinks the Bulls team played their most complete game yet.

“I think until toward the end of the fourth quarter, we felt that [we could come back],” Barnett said. “I think today, offensively, for the most part, I think we played our most complete game … if we were more efficient in the red zone, I think that would have helped us a lot.”

The loss moves USF to 3-1 in the AAC. The Bulls are tied for third in the AAC East with one-loss Cincinnati and behind undefeated UCF and Temple. Still, all of USF’s goals remain in front of them.

“Our goals in mind are still available,” Barnett said. “We’re going to come out and give everything we have for the rest of the season. Our goals are still attainable and we just have to continue to get better.”

Up next for USF is a home game against Tulane. The Bulls and Green Wave kick off at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.