OPINION: USF vs. Tulane takeaways

USF lost consecutive games for the first time since 2015 after its 41-15 defeat against Tulane on Saturday. ORACLE PHOTO/SAM NEWLON

USF football fell to Tulane 41-15 on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. The loss marked the first time USF suffered back-to-back defeats since 2015.

It was ugly. Stats do not do this game justice in showing just how ugly it was for USF.

With that in mind, here are some takeaways from the game that arguably ended the chance for USF to do anything meaningful in 2018.

This was inevitable

USF was playing with fire all season long with its uninspired offense and questionable defense.

While the Bulls started the season 7-0, they were a few dramatic comebacks from the opposite —  for example Tyre McCants’ clutch reception with seconds remaining in Tulsa or Blake Barnett leading two scoring drives in the fourth quarter against Illinois.

A lack of depth — many key USF players like wide receiver Randall St. Felix, tight end Mitchell Wilcox and linebackers Khalid McGee and Nico Sawtelle, to name a few, were out Saturday — coupled with play calling that doesn’t seem to make enough in-game adjustments led to this result.

But it was inevitable that USF was going to lose to a team it shouldn’t lose to. Comebacks are special for a reason.

Injuries and freshmen playing are no excuse

Football is, and always will be, a next man up kind of sport. Injuries happen and teams need players to step up and fill in the gaps for injured stars like Wilcox and Sawtelle.

Yes, the Bulls have had to play a high number of freshmen this season. Entering the Tulane game, 30 freshmen played, with 12 starting at least once.

But this was Game 9. Coach Charlie Strong no longer wants to use that as an excuse.

“We can’t use the excuse that you’re playing so many freshmen,” Strong said. “We’re nine games into the season now. So you can’t use that as an excuse.”

Strong is right. These freshmen have almost a full season of experience under their belts. At a certain point in a season, inexperience can’t be the reason for struggling.

Where was Jordan Cronkrite?

The Bulls’ leading rusher, Jordan Cronkrite, was nowhere to be found, only rushing six times for 13 yards.

He couldn’t have been injured. Nobody had heard anything about Cronkrite being hurt this week — though USF is notoriously secretive about its injuries, so that wouldn’t have been unusual. Plus, Cronkrite played, even if it was in an extremely limited role.

So where was he? For an offense that loves the rush up the middle so much that was playing a defense that struggles against the rush, where was your best rusher?

Strong blamed the fact that his team fell behind to the Green Wave early, but even that seems hard to believe considering USF’s fondness for rushing and Cronkrite’s ability to break into the secondary quite often.

Birmingham isn’t so bad now, right?

While the loss to Tulane doesn’t eliminate USF from contention in the AAC East, it’s tough to see the Bulls entering Black Friday with just two losses after playing so flat against a struggling Tulane team. Even then, depending on what UCF does until that point, two losses might be too many for USF to remain alive.

With that in mind, a New Year’s Six bowl is out of the question. Nobody really seems to want to stay in Florida for a bowl game, either.

So — is Sweet Home Alabama really that bad a song now?

Is seven wins going to be it for USF?

Come to think of it, is there even a winnable game left on USF’s schedule, especially considering this performance against Tulane? Cincinnati and Temple are both 4-1 in AAC play and UCF is — well, it’s a team that hasn’t lost a game since 2016.

Next week is going to be especially tough. USF struggled against a Tulane defense that was the 100th best defense in FBS entering Saturday. Now, the Bulls travel to Nippert Stadium to face a Cincinnati team that shut out the Navy Midshipmen 42-0 on Saturday.

“One thing we need to do is wake up,” Strong said. “We need to wake up and realize, ‘Hey, in order for us to go and win in Cincinnati, we’ve got to play our best.’ And we have to come in there with the right attitude and the right mindset.”

Anything is possible, but it doesn’t look like USF will be able to post a third straight 10-win season after this performance.

Corgis are cute

Perhaps the only highlight of Saturday’s game came after the first quarter, when a corgi race was held on the field.

Yes, a bunch of herding dogs ran around for a few minutes on an NFL field and the results were about what you would expect.

It’s nice to see USF Athletics finally doing something quirky and fun. How many other college football recaps have ever been able to reference a corgi race?

Too bad the most memorable event in USF Athletics history — maybe in the university’s history, even — couldn’t have been paired with a game its fans will actually want to remember.