USF has one more chance at bowl eligibility after UTSA loss: ‘We all know what’s at stake’

Redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown completed 23 of his 39 passes for 287 yards and one passing touchdown against UTSA on Friday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF football played UTSA on Friday night in an attempt to clinch bowl eligibility for the first time in five years.

The Bulls and Roadrunners traded scores in the first quarter. At one point, both teams were tied 14-14.

With 8:15 remaining in the second quarter, senior Roadrunners quarterback Frank Harris took the lead with a 64-yard passing touchdown — and never looked back.

It was one of six touchdowns that USF would surrender to Harris in a 49-21 loss on Friday night. 

Related: Frank Harris, UTSA offense proves too much for USF in blowout loss

Bulls coach Alex Golesh said the Bulls need to play more maturely to handle stronger opponents. 

“I told the guys in the locker room after the game, ‘We’re going to be back in that moment as a program, and we’ll be ready to go take that moment,’” Golesh said. “And right now we just aren’t.” 

Here are five takeaways from Friday’s loss to UTSA.

USF offense stalls for the second straight week

Earlier in the season, the Bulls seemed to have an issue producing an early offense. Over the past few weeks, Golesh has emphasized that the Bulls need to score earlier in the game. 

USF scored on two of its first three drives on Friday.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Byrum Brown threw a 50-yard touchdown to junior wide receiver Yusuf Terry, putting the Bulls up 14-7 with 13:38 remaining in the first quarter. 

However, USF struggled to maintain this momentum. It took the Bulls seven drives to score another touchdown. The Bulls scored on just three of its 14 total drives. The offense had similar stretches against the Owls (3-7,1-5 AAC) on Nov. 11.

Five of the Bulls’ drives on Friday ended in punts. The other two ended due to a turnover on downs and a stoppage at the end of the first half.

Brown said the Bulls will work on a strategy that produces points – not just in spurts but through all 60 minutes of the football game.

“We just weren’t executing on our plays, shooting ourselves in the foot, getting behind the chains and having third-and-longs,” Brown said. “So (we) gotta be better there, and I’ve got a better way to protect the ball.

Third-down troubles plague the team

Golesh said the “story of the game” was the Bulls’ performance on offensive and defensive performance on third down.

The Bulls’ offense was unable to finish drives and garner enough first downs.USF converted seven of 18 third-down attempts against UTSA. The Bulls’ average “distance to go” was 8.6 yards.  

The Bulls were zero for five on third and long (more than nine yards away from the first down mark), but they converted three of their four third-down attempts. 

Their defense was unable to stop their opponents’ drives. Defensively, USF allowed UTSA to convert on nine of its 16 third-down attempts. The Roadrunners’ average “distance to go” was 6.5 yards. 

The team as a whole needs to perform better on third down as the regular season finale approaches.

Bulls’ passing defense needs to be addressed 

There has been a carousel of offenses that have made record-breaking performances against USF this season. It was UTSA’s turn on Friday.

The Bulls gave up 643 yards of offense to the Roadrunners – the most yards in UTSA Football program history.

UTSA is the sixth team to record over 400 yards of offense against USF this season. The Bulls allow 469.5 yards per game. It’s the second-highest average in the country as of this article’s publication date.

The Bulls need to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks – they only totaled one sack on Friday.

Senior defensive lineman Rashad Cheney said the Bulls need to address their ability to force turnovers and sacks.

“It’s a lot of adjustments for me to make before next week,” Cheney said. “We all know what’s at stake.”

Costly penalties on the Bulls’ second drive 

The Bulls are one of the most penalized teams in the country, totaling 78 penalties for 678 yards in their first 10 games. This trend continued on Saturday against the Roadrunners. 

USF had six penalties, which accounted for 65 total yards.

One of the penalties was a pass interference call which overturned senior safety Logan Berryhill’s interception with 13:36 remaining in the third quarter.

Golesh said it “would have been nice” to have the interception but he’s more concerned with the things they can control such as attitude and offensive execution.

However, a couple of USF’s penalties were self-inflicted. The Bulls were tied with the Roadrunners 7-7 as they started their second drive at the 9:34 mark in the first quarter. 

The Bulls were called for a false start and pass interference on back-to-back plays, which cost them 20 yards. USF started second down on its own 46-yard line instead of UTSA’s 39-yard line. 

Instead of taking the lead, they were forced to punt. An unnecessary roughness call on Matthew Hill allowed UTSA to start its drive from the 18-yard line instead of the three-yard line. 

South Florida was called for an illegal formation penalty in the second quarter. It cost them five yards. 

Despite the loss, USF has one more chance for bowl eligibility 

USF has been in contention for a bowl game since its week five win against Navy on Sept. 30. South Florida sustained a 2-3 record in its next five games.

Related: Takeaways: Bulls cut down on penalties in ‘special’ road win

The Bulls could have clinched a postseason berth with a win against UTSA on Saturday — its first since the Gasparilla Bowl against in 2018.

Their season finale against Charlotte on Saturday is their last game to qualify for postseason play.

“You got a shot to go keep playing and the seniors deserve it, this program deserves it (with) all the crap it’s been through,” Golesh said. “We’re going to find a way to go and put one together next week.”