Turnovers cut deep as USF drops conference opener 28-7 at Cincinnati

Jordan McCloud threw two interceptions in Saturday’s 28-7 loss at Cincinnati. He was part of a quarterback unit that went 21-of-41 and tied a program record of five interceptions thrown in a game. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

Coach Jeff Scott said he wanted to have his starting quarterback set after the game against the Bearcats, but their performances at Saturday’s game may have set him further back than he would like.

USF (1-2, 0-1) may have lost 28-7 to No. 15 Cincinnati (3-0, 1-0) in its conference opener at Nippert Stadium on Saturday, but it was five of nine total turnovers that were the Bulls’ greatest enemy. At least one interception in each quarter tied the program record for five interceptions by USF quarterbacks. Freshman starter Katravis Marsh threw three and sophomore Jordan McCloud threw two.

Half of the Bulls’ 14 drives ended in either an interception or turnover on downs.

“We came into this game knowing we needed to take some shots down the field,” Scott said. “We came out here today and threw it to the wrong team.”

On USF’s opening drive, Marsh threw his first interception on his third pass. Four plays later, junior Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder threw his first interception of the game. Marsh’s second interception came almost immediately after USF’s second drive started. In under three minutes into the game, there were three turnovers, which set the tone for the rest of the game.

Both teams struggled with the ball in their hands, but USF stumbled the most — its average field position was its 30-yard line and only entered the red zone once.

The Bulls totaled 291 yards, and seven rushers combined for only 83 yards, averaging 2.5 yards.

USF played three quarterbacks — Marsh, McCloud and sophomore Cade Fortin, who made his debut — who went 2o-of-40 for 190 yards. The Bulls wouldn’t find a shred of momentum until they entered the red zone for the first time in the third quarter, which would turn into USF’s lone touchdown, snapping a six-quarter scoreless streak.

Starting on their 35-yard line, the Bulls gained 42 net yards in seven plays. On fourth-and-14 on Cincinnati’s 20-yard line, McCloud pitched the ball to junior wide receiver Randall St. Felix, acting as USF’s passer, who found McCloud on the right side and completed an 18-yard pass. A play later, sophomore running back Johnny Ford made a 2-yard dash up the middle, trimming the Bearcats lead.

Relief was temporary, however, as USF freshman kicker Kenny Scribner’s 62-yard punt was returned for a 97-yard touchdown.

“The momentum really shifted back on their side,” graduate wide receiver DeVontres Dukes said. “It wasn’t on our side anymore … what little momentum that we had.

“They pretty much took that.”

Even with a shred of momentum, Scott said his offense wasn’t complementing what his defense was doing.

“Really felt like our defense in the first half kept us in the game and continued to give the offense some good field position,” he said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t playing complementary football.”

The Bulls’ defense was a silver lining, limiting the Bearcats to 332 yards, and Cincinnati’s five rushers ran for 189 yards on 45 attempts. On top of picking off Ridder three times, USF’s defense limited him to 143 passing yards on 26 attempts.

Ridder’s other two interceptions came in the second and fourth quarters. His second interception was grabbed out of the air in the end zone by freshman cornerback Chris Townsel, saving USF from a potentially larger Bearcats win. Ridder’s final interception came in Cincinnati’s first drive of the fourth, only for McCloud to throw one of his own two plays later.

Scott said this game was supposed to be where he decided who his starting quarterback would be going forward. He wanted his quarterbacks to have more live reps throwing the ball downfield, but it didn’t work out the way he had hoped.

“We came into the game really wanting to push the ball downfield, we’ve got to get better, we know that, in our passing game and really challenge our guys,” Scott said. “Unfortunately, we threw it deep, and we threw it to them.”

USF now has back-to-back losses and is 0-1 to start conference play, but Scott said he knew how difficult this season could be and he’s embracing the challenges his team has faced early on.

“We knew there was going to be adversity this year, and we’re on the journey,” he said. “This is part of it, and like I said before, this adversity creates change … and growth.

“We need a lot of change, we need a lot of growth in a lot of areas.”