‘A very disappointing and embarrassing loss’

Friday night was not kind to the Bulls. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

The night started bad — there was an almost hour-long weather delay before the game kicked off.

Then, once the game actually began, it got worse — the Bulls were down before they even had a chance to touch the ball.

Then it got historically worse.

That more or less sums up the trouncing USF football (0-1) took Friday night, falling to No. 19 Wisconsin 49-0 at Raymond James Stadium.

The Bulls’ loss to the Badgers (1-0) set a new program record for largest margin of defeat — previously a 39-point defeat to Arkansas in September 2002 — and extended USF’s losing streak to seven games, dating back to last October at Houston. It was also the largest margin of victory in a shutout defeat in program history, previously a 31-point loss to Rutgers in 2009.

Coach Charlie Strong called it a “very disappointing and embarrassing loss.”

The Bulls were never able to get anything going offensively — the only time USF crossed midfield was during a drive late in the fourth quarter when the game was already well out of reach.

USF — without running back/slot receiver Johnny Ford, who was held out for unspecified reasons, though will be back next week, according to Strong — was never able to establish much of a running game. No. 2 quarterback Jordan McCloud, who only came in during the Bulls’ final possession in relief of starter Blake Barnett,  was USF’s leading rusher with 17 net yards.

“We have to be able to be balanced,” Strong said. “In no offense are you going to be any good if you’re not balanced, and if you can’t run the football, you have no chance and especially when you’re playing a good opponent like that.”

With the run game not being a factor, Barnett and the passing game struggled. The senior was 13-of-30 for 109 yards and threw two interceptions before being relieved by McCloud. Barnett wasn’t aided by his receivers, either, as several long targets early on were dropped by normally sure-handed receivers like Eddie McDoom and Randall St. Felix.

While this was the first game under new offense coordinator Kerwin Bell, players didn’t blame jitters or nervousness for the inept offense that only net 101 yards.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with the new offense,” Barnett said, “just lack of execution. But this team is unbelievably better than we were tonight. And it’s up to us to prove that.”

Friday was also a nightmare for the Bulls’ defense, which allowed 433 total yards. Back-to-back Heisman Trophy finalist Jonathan Taylor proved why his name may finally be called in Manhattan this December by running all over the USF defense. Taylor finished with 135 net yards rushing, 48 yards receiving and four touchdowns (two rushing and two receiving). Three of Taylor’s touchdowns were plays of more than 35 yards.

“He’s one of those backs, he’s going to run between the tackles,” Strong said, “and then he can run through all tackles. And that’s what he did tonight … most running backs, either they’re a speed guy or they’re a power guy. He’s a combination of speed and power.”

On the bright side, Oklahoma State-graduate transfer Patrick Macon, who played in place of injured linebacker Nico Sawtelle, led the team with 15 tackles and recorded four tackles for loss in his USF debut.

With the Bulls’ losing streak now at seven — which tied a program record, originally set between the tail end of the 2012 season and start of the 2013 season — the urgency to win next week at Georgia Tech is higher than usual.

“This is not USF football. This is not the way we want to be,” left tackle William Atterbury said. “This is not the way I’m going to go out as a senior … next week is a big challenge and they’re coming off a loss as well. We just have to push as hard and prove that this isn’t us.”

However bad Friday’s loss stings for the Bulls, it’s important to remember there’s still a long season yet to be played, according to Strong, though the Bulls have to be better than they were against Wisconsin.

“It was a good opponent tonight,” Strong said, “and we’ve still got games to play … we know this — we’ve got to get better. We have to get better. And everybody say that.”