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OPINION: SMU loss just the latest in darkest period in program history

Blake Barnett is helped off the field after Saturday’s loss against SMU. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

Ugly.

Unacceptable.

Describe it however you want, because terminology won’t change facts.

USF’s 48-21 loss to SMU on Saturday (don’t let the score fool you, either. It was 41-0 at one point) is the latest loss in the darkest era in program history.

While the end of Skip Holtz’s tenure and the start of the Willie Taggart era were not happy times, considering the brand new offensive coordinator and bulkier defense, the expectations in 2019 were much greater than they were in 2012 or 2013.

Instead, USF is 1-3 and the Bulls have lost nine straight games against FBS opponents dating back to last October.

All of those losses had their fair share of disappointment, but Saturday’s was possibly the worst.

The Bulls held the high-flying SMU “Air Raid” offense to a three-and-out on its first drive.

The Mustangs then scored touchdowns on their next five drives.

Coach Charlie Strong mentioned last Monday the Bulls couldn’t afford to give up “home run” plays.

SMU quarterback Shane Buechele — who didn’t throw an incompletion until late in the second quarter — was 21-of-25 for 226 yards and three touchdowns. Buechele averaged more than a first down every completion, so mission not accomplished.

SMU also ran for 245 yards and four touchdowns.

Basically, USF’s defense, which was riding high after a few great performances against Georgia Tech and South Carolina State, was run over by SMU.

The Bulls’ offense didn’t produce anything meaningful until late in the third quarter, with the first score coming with 26 seconds remaining and the Mustangs’ first-string defense long since gone from the field.

At no point in the game — well, maybe up until the first SMU score, at least — did it seem USF had a prayer, a stark contrast to the previous losses during the streak.

With the exception of the season-opener against then-No. 19 Wisconsin, no game felt completely out of reach at halftime until this one. Some felt improbable, but they were all within reach. In fact, the Bulls trailed the Badgers by six fewer points at halftime.

That’s what makes the loss to the Mustangs worse than the others — it got out of hand so much quicker than literally the worst loss in program history. Had SMU not pulled its starters relatively early in the second half, there’s no telling how bad the final score could have been.

What compounds matters is what went on in Orlando on Saturday — and what’s been going on there the last few years in general.

UCF defeated UConn 56-21. Imagine that. One of the worst teams in the country still put up three touchdowns on one of the best. Sounds familiar.

The Huskies and Bulls meet in Connecticut on Saturday, and quite frankly, despite how bad UConn is, that game is not a sure thing for USF.

In fact, no game is a sure thing at this point. It’ll be a miracle if the Bulls are bowl eligible this season.

Meanwhile, the Knights, despite their one-point loss against Pitt on Sept. 21, have been doing everything right. The Bulls’ biggest rival, who was basically a little brother that never had to be paid much mind for years, has left USF in the dust.

So this ugly loss has created zero confidence heading into a game with the AAC’s punching bag — all while the Bulls’ rival up the road continues to bask in the national spotlight.

Things are bad.

This is just the latest chapter in the darkest era of USF football.

Hopefully the sun rises soon.