Defeating No. 13 Florida was always going to be a tall task for the Bulls, coming off a 45-0 beatdown at the hands of NC State the week prior.
Although the 42-20 outcome wasn’t the upset coach Jeff Scott hoped would happen, he thought the grit and determination his team showed in the face of a 35-3 halftime hole could serve as the turning point for his team this season.
“Our guys competed and played hard in the second half and ended up outscoring them 17-7 in the second half,” Scott said. “So I really think we’re going to look back three, four, five weeks from now and say the second half of this game is where really we kind of started to turn the corner.”
Blown opportunities prove costly
If the game kept going at the pace it did at halftime and the Gators continued to pour it on, the missed opportunities throughout would likely not be as devastating.
But the fact remains the Bulls outscored UF 17-7 in the second half and only lost the game by three possessions against a top-15 team in the nation. A bounce here or a bounce there and fans may have been looking at the game in a different light.
For example, the Bulls had an impressive 16-play, 75-yard drive on their second offensive series, but couldn’t find paydirt once hitting the red zone and ultimately settled for a field goal. Ending with a field goal on that prolific drive rather than making the most of its red zone opportunity cost USF a potential four points.
Early in the second quarter, USF had UF in a fourth-and-short scenario and the Gators elected to go for it. Redshirt sophomore running back Nay’Quan Wright took the ball and dashed to the perimeter looking for the sticks, but the Bulls were able to make contact before the line to gain.
In spite of this, however, Wright shrugged off the defense and picked up the first down, which led to a touchdown three plays later, a seven-point swing in favor of UF.
Moreover, the Bulls later found themselves at the Gators’ 1-yard line in the third quarter with a chance to score a touchdown. Instead, a botched snap on third down forced USF to settle for a field goal, yet again leaving a potential four points on the field.
Those three mistakes alone constituted 15 points in favor of the Gators. In a game where the Bulls were heavy underdogs against a premier team, capitalizing on every opportunity was a must.
Quarterback question marks
USF fans headed into the matchup against UF knowing the quarterback position was still undecided based on comments made by Scott leading up to the game, and after four quarters against the Gators, it’s still an unknown.
Aside from a late-fourth quarter drive resulting in a touchdown that was captained by sophomore Katravis Marsh, the Bulls rolled with two quarterbacks for the majority of the game.
Sophomore Cade Fortin received all of the snaps in the first half and finished 12-of-18 for 91 yards and an interception, and freshman Timmy McClain played the better part of the second half tallying 83 passing yards on 4-of-10 attempts.
Neither signal caller appeared to have an overtly great game, and each had his share of highs and lows. Fortin successfully navigated the aforementioned 75-yard drive early in the first quarter, and McClain dropped a dime to junior receiver Xavier Weaver for a 44-yard pitch and catch down the seam as he was backed up in his own end zone, as well as leading a touchdown drive.
Scott said he isn’t ready to name a starter yet and will watch the film of the game before making any assumptions.
“We’ll see if we’re ready to [pick a starting quarterback] next week,” Scott said. “Ultimately, the big-picture goal is to have our quarterback solidified before going into game five starting conference play [against SMU].”
Backfield committee continues
Between sophomore Brian Battie, juniors Jaren Mangham and Kelley Joiner, and senior Darrian Felix, the Bulls have a surplus of talent at running back.
Naturally, to get each of those players on the field, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. and Scott have employed a backfield by committee, with what seems to be set roles.
Felix looks to be the lead, do-it-all type of back, evidenced by his eight attempts against NC State and his 13 against UF, leading the way in both games. Battie and Joiner appear to have similar roles as speedy, outside zone type of backs and Mangham is the muscle used in short-yardage situations.
The unit rushed collectively for 104 yards on 31 attempts against the Gators, and 85 yards on 21 attempts against NC State, averaging out to 3.6 yards per carry as a unit so far this season.
The formula appears to be working to a point, and if the quirks can be ironed out before conference play begins, the four-man backfield could be an asset for USF moving forward.