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Takeaways: Bulls take major step back in UAB loss

The Bulls allowed six touchdown plays of 20 yards or longer in their 56-35 loss to UAB on Saturday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF football’s 56-35 loss to UAB on Saturday at Protective Stadium gave Bulls fans who watched the team last season deja vu.

The Bulls gave up a season-high 608 offensive yards. The Blazers’ 56 points were the second-most points allowed in a game in program history.

The offense hesitated to respond after scoring on their opening drive and made detrimental turnovers that stalled their momentum.

Last season, the Bulls had one of the worst defensive units in the NCAA in 2022, allowing an average 516 offensive yards and 41.2 points per game. 

Head coach Alex Golesh said the team’s performance was uncharacteristic of their play this year.

“We didn’t play like us and didn’t play like what we expected…,” Golesh said. “You got to get off blocks, you got to tackle. You have to make plays on the ball when the ball is in the air and we didn’t. We didn’t do enough of it to win.”

The Bulls have had a lot of success over the last few weeks, winning their previous two games. However, Saturday showed they still have a long way to go in their quest back to prominence.

Zeno sets USF secondary Ablaze

First, it was Western Kentucky senior Austin Reed. Then, Rice senior JT Daniels. Now, it’s UAB senior Jacob Zeno. The Bulls have faced strong quarterbacks in recent weeks, but they couldn’t overcome the challenge this time.

Zeno torched the Bulls’ defense on Saturday. He finished with four touchdowns and 353 passing yards, making him the third quarterback this season to record at least 300 passing yards against South Florida.

What was most impressive was how quickly the Blazers marched down the field. They scored on five of their seven first-half drives. All of their scoring drives took less than three minutes to complete except for their second, which took just under four minutes.

While the Bulls’ defense has made progress this year, it still has room for improvement – especially against experienced quarterbacks like Zeno.

Playing from behind cannot become a habit 

Last week against Navy, the Bulls found themselves in an early first-quarter deficit, but they came back from it to win. This time, the game snowballed out of hand before USF could get any offensive moves going.

While the ability to make a comeback in last week’s game was a telling sign of its resolve, it wouldn’t have been necessary if USF had gotten off to a better start.

Golesh said he appreciated that the Bulls kept fighting to rally back into the game, but they need to figure out how to improve their first-quarter starts.

“You can’t start off being down two scores. And so we’ve got to figure out why it happens…We’ll go back and look at it and figure out where, in our case, the ball security wasn’t right. And then defensively, where we were short in terms of being able to stop the explosive plays,” Golesh said.

“So I think we’ve started fast enough to go up. And then we obviously gave up some explosive plays which prevented us from continuing to keep momentum.”

Progress isn’t linear

As USF continues the early phase of its rebuild, it will be telling to see how it bounces back from Saturday’s loss. 

Golesh said that the team can’t let a loss like this define who they are. 

“If we’re really going to be a process-driven team, then we’ll go back, evaluate our process and see what led to this. If we are a result-driven team, we will sit here and pout for the next two weeks about it,” Golesh said.

“So [I’m] certainly disappointed. I don’t know that it defines us in any way. Simply just a bump in what is a continuing of building a program.”  

USF will have its homecoming matchup against FAU on Oct. 14. The Owls won their first game as a new member of the AAC in a 20-17 win against Tulsa on Saturday.

The Bulls will need to reevaluate their process to prevail against FAU.