Unforced errors plagued the USF football team against SMU on Saturday, leaving several touchdowns on the board in a frustrating 41-17 loss to the Mustangs.
“That’s the only word to describe it, frustrating,” senior offensive lineman Brad Cecil said.
Whether by poor decision making or lack of execution, the Bulls (1-4, 0-1 AAC) could’ve doubled their point total had they tightened a few loose ends. The unbeaten Mustangs (5-0, 1-0 AAC) came into the game averaging 43 points per contest with notable wins coming over Louisiana Tech and TCU.
“When you’re playing a really good team, the margin for error is very small,” coach Jeff Scott said. “We had some opportunities there and, unfortunately, some of those plays that we’ve made up to this point we didn’t make today.”
Freshman quarterback Timmy McClain finished 14-of-22 for 223 yards and managed to take care of the ball throughout, aside from a late fumble with 8:23 left to play. He failed to score through the air, however, missing the mark on two deep throws to junior receiver Xavier Weaver in the second quarter that were likely walk-in touchdowns.
“[It was] disappointing, I think [McClain] would tell you that,” Scott said. “I think we had probably at least three guys open for big plays, if not touchdowns, and we missed them.”
When the Bulls finally made their way inside the SMU 5-yard line, down 17-0, a false start penalty on Cecil and a delay of game forced them to settle for a field goal.
On the ensuing possession, USF senior linebacker Dwayne Boyles picked off junior quarterback Tanner Mordecai near midfield with under two minutes left. It was his second career interception.
“I felt like [the interception] actually made the guys wake up and think that we really had a chance to come back and win this game,” Boyles said.
The turnover gave the offense a chance to cut the deficit before halftime. With under 30 seconds left, McClain found freshman wide receiver and former high school teammate Jimmy Horn Jr. over the middle for 37 yards, the offense’s biggest play of the game, setting the Bulls up in the red zone.
But the drive ended without points after poor time management on McClain’s part. Trying to make a play with his eyes downfield, he ran around and extended the play for too long, allowing for the clock to expire.
If the freshman had thrown the ball away instead before the clock ran out, it would’ve allowed for a field goal attempt.
“Ultimately, we [have] to coach him for that situation, so that’s on us,” Scott said. “There [were] nine seconds left, and the way the game was going, we could have kicked a field goal [instead of running another play], but it really felt like we needed a touchdown.”
McClain’s start against the Mustangs was just his third ever in college, and mistakes come with the territory of playing a young quarterback. He will grow from it, according to Scott.
“He’ll learn from that, that’s a part of the growing pains when you’re playing a true freshman quarterback,” Scott said. “The goal is not to make the same mistakes that we made today as we’re moving forward.”
USF’s defense, marred by injuries to the secondary, faced a tall task slowing down the high-powered Mustangs led by Mordecai. The Oklahoma transfer diced up the ailing defensive backs for 287 yards and four touchdowns on 28-of-41 passing.
The Bulls were without the services of freshman Jalen Herring, sophomore Christian Williams and redshirt sophomore TJ Robinson, among others.
“Three of our top four corners were out going into this game, and going against a really good passing team, that was a challenge,” Scott said. “I thought, for the most part [senior Joshua] Green did a good job [filling in] … Ultimately it was good for some of those guys to get experience against a really good team.
“I think the good news is, we should get TJ, and hopefully Christian and Jalen Herring, hopefully we’ll get all three of those guys back for our next game”
With conference play now in full swing, the Bulls will enjoy a bye week, hoping to build upon the positives from Saturday’s loss.
“I wish you could see how we are in the locker room right now,” Cecil said. “Nobody is pointing fingers, nobody has got their head down. Everyone knows we’re right there, it’s just a matter of executing and fine tuning the little details.
“Everybody is excited [for] that opportunity that we have, because we know how close we are [to turning things around].”
After a brief hiatus during their bye week, the Bulls will next take the field Oct. 16 against Tulsa at home in Raymond James Stadium. A kickoff time has yet to be announced.