The Bulls took a 14-6 halftime lead into the locker room against East Carolina on Thursday, but a poor performance in the second half led to the 29-14 loss.
On a night where the rain was coming down in buckets, ECU’s third- and fourth-down efficiency played a major role in the final outcome. The Pirates finished 6-of-17 on third downs and 5-of-6 on fourth downs.
The Bulls, however, ended 0-of-7 on third-down attempts and 2-of-4 on fourth-down tries, not exactly a recipe for success.
“[It] was a disappointing finish there in the second half,” coach Jeff Scott said. “I felt like our guys played pretty well in the first half … Ultimately, in the second half, we just couldn’t get off the field on third down defense.
“Then offensively, we couldn’t convert on third down. I think that’s kind of where the game was won and lost right there in the second half.”
After holding ECU to six points in the first half, the wheels fell in the second as the defense allowed the Pirates to put up 23 points.
Another issue that plagued USF, specifically in the second half, was turnovers. Both teams turned the ball over a combined seven times, but three of USF’s came in the latter half of the game.
It was unclear before the contest whether or not freshman quarterback Timmy McClain would get the start, as the Sanford native had been dealing with an ankle injury he sustained against Temple just five days prior.
Sophomore Katravis Marsh started and played every snap, at times flashing the arm talent that Scott has referenced in the past, and at other times turning the ball over.
Marsh finished 15-of-30 for 192 yards and a touchdown. He also threw three second-half interceptions, though one came off a tipped pass late in the game.
“The first half he played really well, threw the ball well, delivered the ball well,” Scott said. “We didn’t lose the game because of [Marsh. He] had nothing to do with our third-down defense at the end of the day.
“You get in that situation [when you’re down late,] a wet game, late in the game, you’ve got to throw it every down, it is what it is. We’re not putting this on [Marsh.] I thought overall he managed the game really well.”
A bit of a bright spot was the play of its running backs. Sophomore Kelley Joiner Jr. led the way as he eclipsed 100 rushing yards for the second consecutive game. He also had a 50-plus-yard touchdown rush taken off the board due to a holding penalty.
“Kelley’s been playing well the last couple weeks,” Scott said. “He’s been doing a good job, we had a few other things we were trying to get to him but the defense didn’t allow for some of the other ways to get the ball … Kelley’s done a good job.
“I feel like he’s playing more confident, I hated that the long run was called back because that was a really nice run at a critical time.”
Junior Jaren Mangham complemented Joiner Jr. with 67 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown, his 13th of the season. With four games remaining, Mangham is five rushing touchdowns away from tying the single-season record held by former quarterback Quinton Flowers, who achieved it in 2018.
In the first half, however, Mangham came up from a run a bit hobbled but remained in the game, splitting snaps with Joiner Jr.
“He got banged up a little bit,” Scott said. “He was trying to play through some stuff. Hopefully he’ll be OK.”
Junior receiver Xavier Weaver, who returned after missing last game with a hamstring issue, also appeared to be banged up, as he was seen favoring his shoulder toward the end of the game. Junior defensive back Daquan Evans also missed the game in a surprising omission.
“Hopefully this nine-day break that we’re going to have before the next game will give us a chance to get all of those guys back,” Scott said.
The next time USF takes the field will be at home against Houston for homecoming on Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU and broadcast on 95.3/620 WDAE/iHeartRadio Bulls Unlimited.