Takeaways: Defense spoils historic offensive output against Memphis

Redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown threw for five touchdowns on Saturday against the Tigers, becoming the first USF quarterback to do so since former USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell in 2001. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF football’s defensive struggles persisted in a 59-50 loss against Memphis on Saturday despite an eye-catching performance from redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown.

The game saw plenty of offensive fireworks, with both teams combining for nearly 1,200 yards of offense. The 107 combined points in the game also marks the highest-scoring game in USF (4-5, 2-3 AAC) history. They beat the previous record of 105, which was set in a win against Liberty in 2001. 

Despite the offensive explosion, Bulls coach Alex Golesh reiterated the sentiment that he has echoed all season long – with a loss, there are no moral victories. 

“You win or lose, offensively or defensively, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

    Brown is shining, but he needs to cut back on turnovers

Brown has found elite company in the FBS in his first season as a starter. He ranks sixth in the FBS for offensive yards per game, with 321.7. His 673 rushing yards is the third most for any quarterback in the nation.

Brown completed 31 of his 39 pass attempts for 357 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. He also added 100 yards on the ground.

His five passing touchdowns tied a 21-year-old program record set by former USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell in 2002. 

Senior wide receiver Sean Atkins – who pulled in a season-high nine receptions – said that Brown’s versatility has been the offense’s driving force. 

“Byrum is supersonic, and it just explains how deep we are. I think all the guys in the room believe in themselves… we’re gonna keep going out and performing like we did today,” Atkins said. 

Despite his excellent performance, Brown needs to cut back on his excessive turnovers that limit offensive momentum.

He committed two turnovers against Memphis, including a first-possession fumble that ultimately led to a Tigers touchdown. Brown also threw an interception late in the third quarter while in Memphis territory.

Brown said that his first turnover contributed to the early deficit. He fumbled in USF territory, which was subsequently returned all the way to the three-yard line and set Memphis up for an easy touchdown.

Defensive issues persist 

The defense spoiled a historic offensive performance and USF’s highest-scoring game in nearly four years.

The 59 points allowed against Memphis are the most in program history.

It’s the third time an opponent has scored 55 or more points against the Bulls this season

USF allows 36 points and 459.2 offensive yards per game, on average. Its yards allowed ranks third most in the nation. 

Golesh said poor tackling contributed to the loss.

“We’ve got to put [the defense] in a position to get them down, and we’ve got to get them down at the end of the day,” Golesh said. 

Almost another comeback victory

USF has become used to playing from behind this season.

The Bulls were down 35-21 with just over two minutes to play in the second quarter. They battled back to take a 42-38 lead on a 9-yard touchdown run by senior running back Kelley Joiner with seven minutes to play in the third. 

USF failed to maintain the lead, ultimately succumbing to three consecutive Memphis touchdowns. 

After falling behind in the first quarter, the Bulls played catch-up most of the game with a defense that could not stop Tigers quarterback Seth

“Going down early, you can’t keep living that way,” Golesh said. “I’ve got to find a way to fix that.”

Bulls need to finish strong

For a team that entered this season winning just four games over the past three years, a potential bowl berth was nearly unthinkable. 

With three weeks left in the season, that dream could still become reality.

The Bulls need to win two of their final three regular-season games to qualify for a bowl game.

USF has not appeared in a bowl game since 2018, where it lost 38-20 to Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl.

Next on the schedule is a home matchup against Temple on Nov. 11, where the Bulls will try to avenge a 54-28 loss last season that ultimately led to the dismissal of former coach Jeff Scott.

That game will be followed by a Friday night road tilt against UTSA on Nov. 17. 

The regular season will be capped off by a home game against Charlotte on Nov. 26, which will be the first matchup between the teams in program history.