Bulls fall to Memphis; fail to reach bowl eligibility for first time in 5 years

Kelley Joiner Jr. rushed for 115 yards Saturday against Memphis. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/GOUSFBULLS

It seemed statistically improbable that USF could top No. 18 Memphis. On Senior Day, however, one might’ve thought the Bulls could work magic and steal a win.

But that wasn’t in the cards for the Bulls (4-7, 2-5), as they failed to carry early momentum and were outplayed by the Tigers (10-1, 6-1) in a resounding 49-10 loss at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday.

The loss goes down as the third straight, and also means the Bulls fail to reach bowl eligibility for the first time since 2014.

“We just could never get any rhythm at all going on offense,” coach Charlie Strong said. “Then it just beats down your defense.”

USF actually started this game off well — the Bulls forced a three-and-out on Memphis’ opening drive and then scored on their ensuing drive.

Sophomore Dave Small broke the plane with a 1-yard rush, putting USF ahead with his first career touchdown. By the end of the first quarter, the Bulls had a 10-7 lead.

The second quarter was where the bottom of the glass fell out, In less than eight minutes, the Tigers scored three touchdowns and the score was 21-10 at the half.

The tempo of the second quarter carried over to the second half — a stagnated USF team and a rampaging Memphis offense.

Tigers’ starting quarterback Brady White went 18-of-28 for 222 yards and two touchdowns. 

His performance this season has been consistent. So consistent that the Bulls didn’t expect anything different.

Prior to Saturday’s game, he averaged more than 285 yards and had a pass completion rate of more than 67 percent. 

“He didn’t really do anything that threw us off,” defensive back KJ Sails said.

Effective tackling was where the defense fell short, according to Sails.

“I feel like we could have done a better job of standing gaps and tackling better,” Sails said.

But inefficient tackling, combined with a solid Memphis offensive line — which only allowed one sack — allowed the Tigers to flourish.

Memphis’ offense dominated to the tune of 560 yards in 89 plays. The Bulls, meanwhile, were effectively shut down, gaining 170 yards in 50 plays.

USF quarterbacks were severely limited, only throwing for 44 yards. Redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud went 5-of-14 for 45 yards.

Sophomore Kirk Rygol entered the game early in the third quarter. He went 1-of-4 for -1 yard and was sacked twice.

The offensive line allowed the quarterbacks to be sacked four times, illuminating the recurring theme of an inconsistent offensive line.

“It shouldn’t be an issue,” Strong said. “We should be able to hold our own and go block them.”

The one silver lining was the performance of freshman Kelley Joiner Jr., who ran for 115 yards, the first 100-yard performance of his career.

The Bulls were without seniors Jordan Cronkrite and Trevon Sands, which meant the pressure was on Joiner Jr.

He topped the team in total yardage and averaged more than 8 yards on 13 attempts.

“He’s so small and quick, but he’s fast enough where he can run away from people,” Strong said. “It was great to see him go out and see the way he played without the two older guys with him.”

But individual performances don’t win games. And now the Bulls are no longer bowl-eligible, which was Strong’s goal down the stretch.

“It definitely hurts for our seniors,” Sails said. “I just feel for those guys.”

Now, USF will head into its final game of the season against UCF with nothing more to play for than its dignity.

Sails is looking forward to the War on I-4, despite the loss of postseason play.

“We’ve got a rivalry game coming up, and I’m pretty sure everybody’s going to be jacked up about it,” Sails said. 

“This one hurt, but we’ve got to win, we’ve got to beat UCF.”