Don’t let the scoreline deceive you.
It wasn’t that close of a game.
USF’s 17-7 loss to Temple (6-3, 3-2) at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday was anything but close. The Bulls’ defense did its part, but the offense had little to show for, and USF (4-5, 2-3) lost the first of its “November gauntlet” games.
“This is a tough one to swallow,” coach Charlie Strong said. “We had opportunities and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
USF’s first drive started with a kickoff and ended in a fumble. But in between there was a second chance after a reset in downs.
The Bulls were initially forced to punt after their first five plays. But after a roughing the kicker penalty was called for bringing Trent Schneider down, the Bulls were given another shot to take the lead.
Four plays later, USF fumbled on Temple’s 29-yard line and the Owls recovered.
USF’s squandered second chance set the tempo for the rest of the game.
The Bulls’ first — and only — touchdown didn’t come until there was a little more than a minute left in the third quarter. Toward the end of the third quarter the Bulls were down 14-0.
The only silver-lining in USF’s offense was when redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud found sophomore receiver Bryce Miller in a 14-yard touchdown pass. Aside from that, the Bulls were stagnant offensively.
Running to set up the passing game has been the go-to plan for USF this season. But the run was severely lacking, as senior running back Jordan Cronkrite led with 21 yards on eight carries.
McCloud, who rushed the most with 18 attempts, finished the game with -5 net yards.
“We never got it going,” Strong said. “We never got the run game going, and that’s one of our strengths. … We didn’t give [Cronkrite] enough chances to touch the football.”
In the passing game, McCloud went 23-of-38 and threw for 225 yards. The pocket, however, collapsed around him multiple times, resulting in McCloud being sacked nine times for a loss of 60 yards.
McCloud took responsibility for his vulnerability in the pocket.
“I love my O-line,” McCloud said. “Some of the sacks were honestly on me. I’ve got to get the ball off quicker.”
Sophomore offensive tackle Donovan Jennings, who offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell on Tuesday called “one of the best left tackles in the league,” went down with an ankle injury before halftime.
He was replaced by junior Jarrett Hopple, and Jennings’ absence caused the line to shift tactics.
“We tried to slide the left side a little bit,” McCloud said. “After Donovan went down and that’s when we were able to start getting some downfield passing a little bit.”
Despite the offense’s inefficiency when it was given the ball, the defense fared better. It limited Temple to one of four red-zone attempts and held the Owls to only a touchdown at halftime.
Linebacker Patrick Macon, who led with nine total tackles, wasn’t frustrated with the lack of production on the offensive end of the ball.
“We’ll continue to give them as many chances as they need,” Macon said. “Eventually it’ll open up. It’s like when a bird hatches. When it cracks the shell it’s just taking time to open up.
“When it opens up it’s going to be explosive.”
Next week, USF enters the heart of “the November gauntlet.” The Bulls face two ranked opponents in No. 17 Cincinnati and No. 19 Memphis, followed by UCF on Black Friday.
Strong remains optimistic about the remaining three games of the season. A bowl game is still mathematically within reach, and it’s important for the senior players, according to Strong.
“We’ve got to get these guys to a bowl game,” Strong said. “I know that these opponents are going to be tougher.”