OPINION: USF–Houston takeaways

Perhaps it’s a nasty coincidence, but USF on Saturday extended its losing streak in the same city it began one two years ago. With only two games to go, the Bulls can only hope for better luck. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

USF’s 56-21 loss against Houston at TDECU Stadium on Saturday made history, but for all the wrong reasons.

The Bulls have now lost seven games in a row, their worst losing streak since losing their last six of the 2018 season.

Ironically, that skid two years ago started with a 57-36 loss in the very same stadium. It’s probably some kind of twisted fate that the Bulls extend their losing streak in the Lone Star State.

The year 2020 continues to laugh at USF. Either that or someone is still twisting the needle in a Rocky the Bull voodoo doll.

USF fans, if you haven’t already, brace for impact.

Depleted defense steamrolled

USF started on the back foot — seven of the 13 unavailable players were on defense. Defensive leaders — linebacker Antonio Grier and safety Vincent Davis — were included in that list.

Unfortunately for USF, Houston saw that as open season and began hurling anything and everything at a razor-thin defense.

For a defense that trotted out only three cornerbacks last week, the best one can do is just grin, bear it and try not to embarrass too much.

In the air, the Bulls put in an effort. They limited Houston quarterback Clayton Tune to 14-of-25 for 165 yards. 

Tune threw three touchdown passes, so it wasn’t exactly the heroic performance the secondary wanted.

Where Tune really found his groove was on the ground. He ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns, his best game on the ground in his college career.

That’s something the Bulls’ defense wasn’t really expecting and coupled with a lack of depth, that’s ultimately what did USF in.

There’s really no timetable for when USF will get its full defense back. Hell, at this point in the season it’s a pipe dream.

And with Navy and UCF on the horizon, the Bulls can really only hope to brace for impact.

Offense fires blanks

From one of its best showings in a whole calendar year last week in USF’s 34-33 loss in Bluff City, the offense stumbled.

Of course, the defense isn’t the only side of the ball missing players. The offense was without quarterback Noah Johnson, who almost made himself a USF hero last week after passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

Already dealt a blow without Johnson, the universe tacked on more and quarterback Cade Fortin was added to the unavailable list, joining leading rusher Johnny Ford.

The explosiveness was noticeably missing without USF’s playmakers. Jordan McCloud, who made his first showing since he went 2-of-7 against Tulsa, threw for a measly 48 yards in the first half.

Even without Ford, the run game still managed, but it was mainly thanks to freshman Brian Battie’s performance that the Bulls found yards on the ground. He accounted for more than 63% of USF’s 136 rushing yards.

Battie is surely an exciting player who will likely be a significant playmaker. But other players will have to contribute down in the next two games if USF wants to even sniff the end zone.

Quarterback situation still a mess

What is this, round three on the carousel? The second trip was short-lived after Johnson put together a string of consistent and convincing performances against Tulsa before the bye week and at Memphis the week after.

He didn’t make the trip to Houston and Fortin was also listed as unavailable despite suiting up.

That left USF with McCloud who’s fallen down the pecking order since his poor start at Tulsa.

Given a chance to regain his spot, McCloud failed to deliver at first. Through the first half, he went 4-of-13, but that changed in the third quarter.

Whatever the talk was at the half seemed to work. After Katravis Marsh, who was brought in after McCloud’s first outing to kick-start the offense, left the game with an injury in the third, a whole new McCloud took over.

He hit his first eight passes for 120 yards, ultimately leading to USF’s second score.

Perhaps McCloud thrives under extreme pressure, perchance he got a hearty pep talk or maybe it’s just downright inconsistency. 

Whatever it is, USF continues to struggle in its search for a starter, and it’s something that’ll likely continue into the next season.

For now, it seems just like with anything the Bulls try to do, they’ll just have to grin and bear it.