USF’s newfound confidence might be enough to secure first conference win

USF’s confidence has changed for the better, especially after the Bulls’ close loss to Memphis last week, coaches said. USF’s newfound stability could be enough to topple an inconsistent Houston. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF’s search for consistency has brought it to the final few weeks of the regular season. A mixed bag of results has led the Bulls to a less-than-ideal six consecutive losses. 

Two of those losses — 39-37 at Temple on Oct. 17 and 34-33 at Memphis last weekend — came down to the wire, and USF has shown that its players have the mindset to produce but not finish out games.

Consistency has also been difficult for the Bulls’ upcoming opponent Houston.

It’ll come down to which team has done more work toward the goal of stability when USF (1-6, 0-5) travels to TDECU Stadium and takes on Houston (2-3, 2-2) Saturday.

For coach Jeff Scott and the Bulls, they found the right mentality against Memphis but didn’t get the result they wanted. Now Scott hopes the results will follow, beginning with Houston.

“Here as we kind of finish up our last few games of the season … my expectation is to continue to see us improve and hopefully find a way to win a couple of these games,” Scott said.

Despite holding a better record than the Bulls, the Cougars’ inconsistency seemingly does more to throw the team in turmoil.

Houston began its season with a 49-31 win over Tulane, a 43-26 loss against then-No. 14 BYU and a convincing 37-21 win over Navy in Annapolis.

Then the Cougars hit a low with back-to-back losses against UCF and No. 7 Cincinnati. Houston’s 38-10 loss to the Bearcats was its worst this season.

“We’re clearly not anywhere close to where we need to be as a football team and as a program to be able to compete in this league,” Cougars coach Dana Holgerson told Houston media via Zoom after the game against Cincinnati.

As the Cougars search for confidence and their identity, USF offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. sees that as a way in, but only if the Bulls focus on what they need to do offensively.

“They’re great up front if really explosive players on that front line,” he said. “I think the key for us is always gonna be working on us, and making sure we’re executing and doing the things that we got to do.”

Houston’s defense is ranked eighth in the AAC and has given up an average of 450.4 yards in five games. The Cougars may not be defensively sound, but Weis Jr. doesn’t think they should be underestimated.

“Even though they’ve had trouble a little bit, at times, just like we have, I think they’ve got a lot of good talent and a lot of good players and we expect their best on Saturday,” Weis Jr. said.

Individual players like linebacker Grant Stuard and 6-foot-6-inch lineman Payton Turner pose a threat to USF. Together they have 65 tackles with 11.5 for loss.

USF’s offense, which in the past has been a mixed bag, last week scored 20-plus points in the first half of a game for the first time since last year’s 45-20 win over East Carolina when the Bulls scored 35 through the second quarter.

Now with a rejuvenated offense led by quarterback Noah Johnson, who went 20-of-29 for 217 yards against the Tigers, the Bulls have taken one step further toward their goal of consistency.

Despite how the game finished in the final minutes, Weis Jr. said he thinks USF is on its way and Johnson is a big part of it.

“He’s had a great week so far, he’s had a great attitude,” Weis Jr. said. “It’s heartbreaking how close it was, we could have finished the job a couple times there offensively in four-minute situations, two minutes.

“But we also see how close we are to being what we want to be, and so that drive to be there is what makes Noah great.”

The Bulls and the Cougars kick off Saturday at 3:30. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.