After winning three of its first five games of the season, the optimism surrounding USF football was as high as it had been in recent memory.
However, the Bulls’ (3-4, 2-2 AAC) fortunes have shifted over the last couple of weeks.
Their 56-14 loss to Florida Atlantic on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium was arguably their worst of the year.
It’s the second most points they’ve allowed at home in program history. It’s also the most they’ve given up at Raymond James stadium since losing to former conference rival Houston 54-42 in their Homecoming game on Nov. 6, 2021.
Bulls coach Alex Golesh said it was disappointing to lose in a similar fashion in back-to-back weeks.
“There’s a million excuses you can make and I won’t make any of them or [other] coaches won’t make any of them. In every imaginable way, we’ve got to coach better and we got to play better,” he said.
“And I think more than anything, we got to execute better in critical situations and we’re gonna go dissect all of it. But [I’m] really disappointed in certainly how we played in all three facets on Saturday.”
Here are the takeaways from the Bulls’ loss to the Owls (3-3, 2-0 AAC).
Where has the defense gone?
Early in the season, USF’s defense seemed to have made major steps. They were ranked in the top five nationally in tackles for loss and top 20 in sacks.
However, for the second game in a row, the Bulls’ defense had a terrible showing and allowed a record-breaking offensive performance. They gave up 35 unanswered points in the second half to the Owls.
Before Saturday, FAU was 26 for 76 on its third-down conversions and 11 for 18 in red zone attempts. It converted on nine of its 16 attempts on third down and on all six of its appearances in the red zone against USF.
Golesh said many of the big plays could be attributed to the Bulls being unable to put any pressure on Owls junior quarterback Daniel Richardson.
“I thought too often the quarterback sat back there and was able to be comfortable throwing it vertically and didn’t think it was just a bunch of bodies running uncovered,” he said.
Richardson completed 31 of his 38 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns and wasn’t sacked on Saturday.
‘Three and Outs’ and sacks stifle Bulls’ offensive momentum…again
The Bulls’ offense put on a mediocre showing as well, only scoring twice in the second quarter.
USF went scoreless on its first four drives and ended its second drive with a fumble in the red zone at 11:59 in the first quarter.
Just as concerning, USF only converted on three of its 15 third down attempts. Its average third down “distance to go” was 10.1 yards. South Florida ranks 88th in the nation in third-down conversion percentage at 37.9%.
The pass protection did not help this effort as USF allowed six sacks on Saturday.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown also took some big hits, leaving the game for a few drives in the third quarter after being on the receiving end of a targeting call.
Nay’Quan Wright was a bright spot
In a game where the offensive unit struggled to produce many points, senior running back Nay’Quan Wright was one of the few notable positives for the Bulls.
Wright had 106 rushing yards on 15 attempts and was a part of a few big plays that helped USF lessen its deficit to one touchdown going into the second half.
In the second quarter, he rushed for an eight-yard touchdown to bring the score to 14-7.
He would later record his longest run of the afternoon for 41 yards. It would help put the Bulls in a position to attempt a field goal, which they would fail to capitalize on.
Last week against UAB could’ve been passed off as a fluke. However, Saturday’s performance showed cause for concern.
The season is still salvageable as its next chance to address the defensive concerns is against UConn. The Huskies (1-5) rank 110th in the nation in passing offense. The Bulls have won the last eight matchups against UConn.
The team needs to get back to the encouraging levels of play from the first half of this season and give fans a decent showing to hold them over before its bye week.
USF heads to East Hartford, CT to face UConn on Saturday at Pratt & Whitney Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network and BullsUnlimited Radio.