OPINION: USF–Tulsa takeaways

Jordan McCloud started but was pulled in the first quarter against Tulsa on Friday. A combination of Noah Johnson and Cade Fortin finished the game, which means the quarterback competition could very well be back on. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Once again, USF dropped the ball — in some cases, literally — at home for the second time this season. 

A 42-13 loss to Tulsa at Raymond James Stadium on Friday continues a streak of embarrassments on ESPN, with the last time being a 34-7 loss at UCF on the final day of last season.

Now USF heads into a bye week with much to think about. Of course, for many teams, a bye week is a chance to reassess, recuperate and, in some cases, reset.

For the Bulls, things seem to be falling apart just a bit, and they’ll need all the help they can get during the week off.

Bringing up old bad habits

The last thing USF needs right now is for the team to sink into one of the major pitfalls of last season, especially down the stretch — a lack of discipline on the sideline.

Defensive back Nick Roberts seemed to reopen old wounds when he was told he would not be returning to the game late in the third quarter.

He then took off his pads and walked into the locker room on what looked like his own terms. Coach Jeff Scott said immediately after the game that he had not yet spoken with Roberts, but by the time this story is published I’m sure they have had a chat.

It’s natural to be frustrated when you’re being destroyed in your own home, but storming off the field is reminiscent of the behind-the-scenes issues that plagued USF last season.

Sideline arguments weren’t uncommon for USF in 2019, and the full-scale scuffle prior to the UCF game last season exposed the Bulls’ lack of cohesive sideline discipline.

The list of things to fix in the bye week is long, but getting attitudes under control should be right at the top.

Quarterback competition back on?

Just when we thought we had an answer to the quarterback situation there’s a new twist.

Jordan McCloud, expectedly, started against Tulsa but was yanked after going 2-of-6 in the first quarter. He made a cameo late in the third quarter only to complete a three-and-out with an incomplete pass.

McCloud went 2-of-7 for 8 yards and ran for 15 yards on one attempt.

That wasn’t good enough for Scott, who said he wanted to bring some “new energy” to the game.

Noah Johnson took over and played most of the game, going 18-of-27 for 150 yards, throwing one touchdown and one pick-six. He also ran for 28 yards on nine attempts.

Cade Fortin also saw some action, going 2-of-2 for 25 yards. He was USF’s leading rusher with 39 yards despite only four attempts.

The injection of energy from Fortin was capped off with what looked like a shoulder injury he sustained early in the third quarter.

Johnson’s performance was far from perfect, but he kept his vision open and scrambled well when the pocket collapsed around him.

Maybe it was just an off day for McCloud, but it seems like the quarterback competition is broken wide open again, with Johnson and Fortin — if his injury isn’t too serious — hot on his heels.

Untimely turnovers continue

As I said, Johnson’s performance was far from perfect. 

And USF’s poor 2-of-4 performance in the red zone was due in large part to Johnson.

USF’s second drive of the second quarter looked to be the chance at bringing them within a score of Tulsa. At 21-6 with under a minute left before the half, a touchdown would’ve given the Bulls a boost heading into the locker room.

It looked to be almost guaranteed that the Bulls would score. Almost.

On third-and-goal, Johnson made a 2-yard dash, all while wildly swinging the football with one hand. 

Almost inevitably, the ball was poked free and recovered by the Golden Hurricane, and Tulsa had time for two plays before the clock expired. 

The Bulls badly needed that score if they wanted any hope of a comeback in the second half. For them to give it up in such a fashion on the 4-yard line shows how much USF needs to work on the basics.

Maybe it’s just terrible luck. Or maybe someone is just beating up a Rocky the Bull voodoo doll somewhere.

Defensive struggles continue

For some context, USF has given up 205 points against FBS teams through five games. That’s an average of 41 points per game.

Obviously, it’s up to the offense to score more points, but having a stagnant defense undermines crucial shots for the offense to put points on the board.

The Bulls allowed Tulsa to gain 462 yards, the most all season. In its last five games, USF’s defense has allowed an average of 413.6 yards, ranking it 49th in total defense.

Of course, there were some silver linings for USF’s defense, most notably an interception and 31-yard return by defensive back Daquan Evans. On the next Tulsa drive, the Bulls forced the Golden Hurricane to punt on their own 19-yard line.

Allowing Tulsa to steamroll them at home isn’t a good look, however, and remedying the Bulls’ defensive woes needs to be addressed in the week off.