Defense dominates, offense falls short in 17-3 loss to Alabama

The Bulls held The Crimson Tide scoreless through most of the first half. ORACLE PHOTO/ARIANNA RENICK

In one of the highest attended games in program history, USF fell 17-3 in a hard-fought defensive battle against No. 10 Alabama on Saturday.

Despite the strong defensive effort, the Bulls’ (1-2) offense could not capitalize on the stops and turnovers they forced from the Crimson Tide (2-1).

Playing in an electric environment in front of 65,138 fans that packed Raymond James Stadium – the fifth-highest crowd the Bulls have ever played for – USF made a significant leap forward as a program while limiting a powerhouse team to historically low offensive output. 

The Bulls led by a single field goal until Alabama scored its first points late in the second quarter.

Alabama’s three first-half points is its lowest total since being shut out in the first half against Auburn in 2021. The Crimson Tide’s 17 points are the fewest scored in a win since their 14-13 victory over Arkansas in 2014, according to Sports Reference. 

The Bulls defense racked up five sacks and a fumble recovery, their highest sack total since facing UConn in 2019. Senior defensive back Daquan Evans dominated with four tackles for loss, three sacks and a pass deflection. 

Evans’ three sacks are the most Alabama has given up to a single player since giving up 3.5 sacks to Auburn linebacker Derick Hall in 2021. 

Head coach Alex Golesh noted how Evans’ process prepared him to have a breakout performance in such a big game. 

“He’s another young man you could build a program around, and when the chips are stacked against him, all he does is come to work and make everybody around him better. He’s incredible, another tough-a** dude,” Golesh said. 

Given the excellent performance of both defenses and the low-scoring nature of the game, both offenses failed to gain much momentum in the first half – a trend that continued throughout the game. 

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner was announced as the starter for the Crimson Tide on Friday. Redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe started the team’s previous two games, including last week’s 34-24 loss against Texas. 

Buchner completed just five of his 14 pass attempts before being pulled from the game. USF redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown struggled to hit his receivers, throwing for just 87 yards while turning the ball over twice. 

Despite out gaining Alabama’s offense through three quarters, missed opportunities and failures to convert on fourth down proved to be USF’s downfall. 

With the Bulls down 10-3, Brown threw a crucial fourth quarter interception to senior defensive back Malachi Brown, missing an opportunity to tie the game.

Although the defense consistently limited Alabama’s offense, the Bulls attempted six fourth down conversions. Only two of these attempts were converted, including a missed fake punt attempt.

Golesh stood behind his aggressive approach, but admitted that he wished his team executed better.

“I don’t regret anything…we got to be aggressive, but we got to be smart. I don’t regret those, but obviously I wish we should’ve executed both of those,” Golesh said. 

With a rebuilding program, playing such a physically imposing game on a national stage is monumental to a team that has seen very limited success in recent years. Golesh said he views each week as a building block for the program, but they need to start progressing into finishing out games strong.

“You fight for three and half quarters to give yourself a chance to win, [so] you got to be able to go end it,” Golesh said. 

Although he said there are “no moral victories,” he expressed his pride in the hard-fought effort his team produced.

“I’m really proud of our defense, I’m really proud of the way that they finished down the stretch. Really proud of the [defensive pressure] and how they affected that game,” Golesh said. 

Next Saturday, USF will complete its three-game homestand with an inter-conference matchup with Rice. This will be the first AAC matchup of the season as the Bulls attempt to get back in the winning column.