Takeaways: New coaching does not excuse loss

Interim head coach Daniel Da Prato coached his first game Saturday against SMU. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEXANDRA URBAN

After an eventful week headlined by the firing of former coach Jeff Scott, USF football lost 41-23 to Southern Methodist on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.

In spite of the challenge of adjusting to new leadership, interim head coach Daniel Da Prato did not excuse the outcome of Saturday’s game.

“Obviously it’s been a difficult week for our young men and our program and we were able to fight through that during the week,” Da Prato said. “I’m proud of our kids and their effort, but at the end of the day, we play this game to win, and we didn’t play well enough to win the football game.”

USF (1-9, 0-6 AAC) kept up in the first half, tying the game 17-17 going into the locker room, but its defense fell apart in the second half, allowing SMU (6-4, 4-2 AAC) to break the game open.

New head coach, same defensive struggles

Saturday against SMU was the first time South Florida played since promoting Da Prato along with newly minted defensive coordinator Ernie Sims. However, the Bulls’ recent coaching changes didn’t remedy the struggles USF has had defensively throughout the season.

Most of the damage was done in the third quarter when the Mustangs scored on all three of their drives, racking up 21 points and nearly 200 yards.

The Bulls gave up 553 offensive yards in the game, and have given up over 500 yards of offense in four of their last five games.

Junior wide receiver Xavier Weaver leads USF with 718 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2022. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEXANDRA URBAN

Strong passing helped USF tie the first half

Although South Florida’s ground game has been a focal point of its campaign, the Bulls finished with 23 more passing yards than rushing against SMU.

Relying more on the pass helped the Bulls make up ground, throwing 10 passes for 91 yards compared to rushing eight for 25 in the second quarter.

Wide receivers sophomore Jimmy Horn Jr. and Sean Atkins and junior Xavier Weaver each finished with at least 50 or more receiving yards in the game, showcasing a pretty balanced effort.

Weaver rises to fourth all-time on career receiving yards

Weaver played a huge role in keeping the Bulls in the game during the first half.

In the second quarter, Weaver caught a 12-yard pass early in South Florida’s drive that would later set up his own 32-yard touchdown catch to cut the deficit to 17-14.

Weaver led the team in receiving, ending the game with four receptions and 60 receiving yards. His performance also helped him move up to fourth all time in career receiving yards at USF with 1,735.

Freshman quarterback Byrum Brown threw a 17-yard pass to junior tight end Jayson Littlejohn for a touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEXANDRA URBAN

Byrum Brown fills in for Marsh late in game

When sophomore quarterback Katravis Marsh was carried off the field due to an undisclosed injury in the final quarter, freshman Byrum Brown took over and led the Bulls down the field for a touchdown.

Da Prato spoke eagerly about his young quarterback’s composure during that drive.

“Things come at you fast,” he said. “All of a sudden you get out there and as a backup, you don’t get as many reps going throughout the week. So you have to get mental reps. You have to get reps from the film and when we’re standing on the sidelines. He prepares properly, and as he continues to get more reps he’ll just continue to grow and get better and better.”

Marsh’s availability is currently unknown for the rest of the season, including next Friday against Tulsa. However, Da Prato is confident in Brown to assume the starting role if needed.

“[I have had] the utmost confidence in him from the day he stepped foot on this campus,” he said. “He has always been prepared and always being ready. We’ll get together with [offensive coordinator Travis Trickett on Sunday] and see how we’re moving forward.

“Whatever happens we’ll adjust off those things. I have zero reservations about him being prepared to take us on the road and win us the football game.”

USF heads to Oklahoma to play Tulsa on Friday at Chapman Stadium. Kickoff is at 9 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and BullsUnlimited.