The Bulls gave a valiant effort in their pursuit of a comeback victory against No. 15 BYU on Saturday, but the big lead they allowed the Cougars to build early ultimately proved to be insurmountable in the 35-27 loss.
It started to unravel quickly for USF in the game’s opening quarter. Sophomore quarterback Baylor Romney, the backup for BYU who was officially tabbed as the starter moments before kickoff, uncorked a 49-yard heave on the second play from scrimmage.
He connected with his brother, junior receiver Gunner Romney, on the play. After a BYU false start, the Cougars found the end zone two plays later to take an early lead they would never relinquish.
The Bulls punted and lost a fumble on their first two offensive series, and the Cougars scored on the ensuing drives after both, narrowly getting into the end zone on a pair fourth and ones each time.
Down 21-0, USF had a daunting hole to dig itself out of.
“Our goal was to come out, obviously, and play well early,” coach Jeff Scott said. “We talked about that all week, … we needed to come out and play well early and we didn’t. Ultimately, that ended up being the difference in this game.
“When you’re playing a really good team like BYU, who’s won 12 home games in a row … you’ve got to be able to execute for four quarters.”
The Bulls didn’t allow themselves to be completely outclassed. USF cut the 21-point deficit to eight points with 5:41 remaining in the game.
Following the touchdown that pulled the Bulls within one possession, Scott elected to go for an onside kick rather than booting the ball deep and banking on the defense getting a stop. The ball went out of bounds on the play, and the Cougars picked up possession and ran out the clock to ice the game.
The decision, according to Scott, was because the team had no timeouts left.
“We had no timeouts … I felt like we had them on their heels,” Scott said.
“At some point, the ball is going to bounce our way and we’re going to get some breaks. I told our guys, ‘We didn’t come 2,300 miles to play conservative.’”
Much of the shift in momentum after the early rush by the Cougars was driven by freshman quarterback Timmy McClain, who ended the night 17-of-24 for 186 yards. He also rushed for 55 yards on 15 attempts.
Aside from an early botched snap that led to the aforementioned fumble, McClain appeared to do a good job taking care of the ball and not being rattled by the 60,217 fans in attendance at LaVell Edwards Stadium. He also seemingly made something out of nothing a number of times, either extending the play long enough for a receiver to get open or outright running the ball himself.
Scott was comfortable enough in McClain’s performance to name him the starter moving forward.
“I felt like Timmy’s feet were really the difference for us in some situations when maybe we didn’t have what we wanted downfield with the coverage, and he made some plays,” Scott said. “I feel comfortable with him being our starter moving forward.
“We’ll still take it week by week as we go. Obviously, there’s no season-long contracts or anything like that, you’ve got to continue to play well. But right now, he moves the ball best for our offense.”
With out-of-conference play now wrapped up and SMU next on the schedule, Scott and the Bulls will look to build upon the experiences they had in their nonconference gauntlet.
“We probably played one of the most difficult nonconference schedules in the entire country, all of Division I football … Obviously, [I’m] disappointed we didn’t come away with a win [tonight,] but really [I’m] just proud of our guys’ effort,” Scott said. “The way they continued to fight, it was definitely an uncommon effort and that’s something we’ll build off.
“We’ll go home, get some rest and show back up Monday [and] get ready for conference play.”
USF and SMU will kick off Oct. 2 at 4 p.m. in Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas. The game will be televised on ESPNU and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.