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OPINION: USF–Memphis takeaways

Quarterback Noah Johnson might have solidified himself as the USF No. 1 after going 20-of-29 for 217 yards and two touchdowns. His individual performance was a silver lining in Saturday’s road loss to Memphis. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF took Liberty Stadium Saturday afternoon looking like a brand new team. 

The final score was 34-33 and while USF did lose, the Bulls gave their best performance of the season. 

“Obviously not happy with the results, the way that it ended,” coach Jeff Scott said. “But, I do have to say I’m really proud of our players. I really felt like we played our best game for three and a half quarters.” 

A new starter?

USF has been using a carousel of quarterbacks, even after Scott named Jordan McCloud the starter in Week 4. But McCloud hasn’t been seen much, and it’s clear USF hasn’t had a go-to playmaker.

However, this game against Memphis was different. 

The Bulls utilized Noah Johnson at quarterback the entire game and, more or less, he delivered. Johnson went 20-of-29 for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

In past games, Johnson’s instinct is to run, which occasionally led to the ball being poked loose.

Johnson had no turnovers Saturday, a vast improvement over past games. Having Johnson in for the entirety of the game was based on Scott’s goal of maintaining consistency at the position. 

Johnson came to USF as a dual-threat guy but hasn’t gotten the chance to show the best of his abilities. Saturday was finally his moment. 

“Noah started making some nice throws for us and continued to move the ball,” Scott said. “I think overall looking at numbers and all that, I think he played well and he gave us an opportunity to win the game.” 

Johnson may be USF’s new starting quarterback if he can remain consistent. 

Failing under pressure

USF fans were more than excited throughout the first three quarters when the Bulls were ahead for the first time since the season opener against The Citadel. 

A sizable 14-point lead at the half was USF’s high.

Then the Bulls hit their low in the last quarter when Memphis made a successful comeback with two unanswered touchdowns in the final minutes.

The question of “what happened?” is resonating with Bulls fans. But in all honesty, USF is just not experienced in finishing out a game.

USF had 1:03 left on the clock to drive for a game-winning touchdown or field goal. The Bulls almost had a decent shot when Kelley Joiner was two feet short on a fourth-down conversion try near midfield with 57 seconds left.

It looked like the coaches and players were failing under pressure. But when one looks back at the season, USF has hardly been in win-or-lose situations. 

While it may have cost them this game, at least the Bulls can now say they hung on till almost the end. They can take this and hopefully turn it into a learning experience for the team. 

Individual victories somewhat make up for loss

USF did lose, but there were many moral victories throughout. 

Besides Johnson playing his best game as a Bull, the defense continued to be strong throughout the game while not having much depth. 

Going in with only three cornerbacks, a lot of the defense had to play the whole game and still gave a solid performance. 

Antonio Grier had 10 total tackles, Mekhi LaPointe had eight and Christopher Townsel had seven. The Bulls were also able to hold Memphis on three-fourths of its fourth downs.

Daquan Evans had his third pick of the season, this time a pick-6 at the beginning of the second quarter. His touchdown was also a turning point for the Bulls. They scored an additional 24 points after. 

Spencer Shrader was 4-of-4 on field goals, all of which were over 40 yards.

USF might be on an upturn, but it’s yet to be seen if small individual victories are enough to beat Houston next week.