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OPINION: USF – The Citadel takeaways

Johnny Ford (center) stood out in USF’s offense against The Citadel. He ran for 71 yards on nine attempts, contributing to an offense that ran for over 302 yards. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

After a long wait of nine months, it is finally here.

USF football and head coach Jeff Scott ran out to the field at Raymond James Stadium to pre-recorded sounds and videos and 65,000 empty red seats on a very wet Saturday night.

Definitely not the most ideal start to a season, but it seemed to not matter to USF football. The Bulls started the season with a 27-6 domination over The Citadel, bringing Scott his first career win in his head coaching debut.

No fans, no problem

The most daunting aspect of a football game during a pandemic was the idea that it would not be like traditional games — no fans, no cheerleaders, no bands — it seemed almost pointless to have a game at that point.

However, it did not seem to affect the Bulls.

“Fans bring juice but since we found out we’re playing this game, we knew we were going to have to bring our own juice,” quarterback Jordan McCloud said. “At the end of the day, you got to be focused on what’s going on between the lines so it didn’t really affect too much.”

By looks, the environment was different. Instead of having the Herd of Thunder marching band in person, they played pre-recorded videos on the big screen. The same case applied to the USF SunDolls and cheerleaders. 

It added to the illusion that there was a crowd in attendance, but when the only focus is the game and what is being played, it didn’t matter in the end. USF delivered regardless.

Rushing duo on watch 

The Noah Johnson-Johnny Ford duo seemed to take the field by storm this game. 

Johnson didn’t get the start, but he definitely turned some heads after coming in during the second quarter. 

With 5:25 minutes left in the half, the Bulls were on their own 40-yard line. All eyes were on Johnson for his first outing in Green and Gold.

Ford ran consecutive plays, including the longest run of the game, a 43-yard run to Citadel’s 14-yard line.

Three quick rushes by Johnson set up a 9-yard carry for Johnson’s first touchdown as a Bull.

On a drive that lasted five plays for 60 yards in 2:44 minutes of possession time, Ford and Johnson worked in tandem to pad USF’s score. The two combined for 120 rushing yards.

It seems Johnson will get along just fine as a Bull, and Ford seems born again under Scott.

Capitalizing on the rustiness 

Special teams seemed a little more special in this game. 

Citadel punter Matt Campbell let the Florida rain get the better of him. What looked like a shanked punt due to a slippery ball directly led to USF’s second touchdown. 

His botched 10-yard punt fell straight into receiver Omarion Dollison’s arms for a 0-yard return for a touchdown.

“A true freshman, ‘OD’ or Omarion Dollison, very first game, he tied the NCAA record in the history of college football for the shortest punt return for a touchdown, ever. So, man, that’s awesome. You never know how the ball is gonna bounce to be ready to capitalize,” Scott said.

Receiver DeVontres Dukes called his return the “icing” on the cake. It showed just how much more locked-in USF was.

Turning a new leaf in discipline 

The Bulls finished with five penalties and zero turnovers, something that was nowhere to be seen last season. In 2019, USF averaged over eight penalties per game and had a turnover ratio of 5. 

“No turnovers, and that was an area we needed to improve. Really proud of that, and especially early on in the first half. I thought we did a good job on both sides of the ball of not having too many penalties,” Scott said.

It’s only Week 1, but it’s a vast improvement from what was on display last season. Discipline was something Scott wanted to hammer home this season, and it looks like that’s being delivered.