By Leo Haggerty
Archived in Featured Articles – College & University of South Florida

In a game that the Bulls had to win to stay in the bowl picture, USF had what was possibly their worst performance of the season.  The sad fact is that included players and coaches alike.

South Florida, after taking a 10-7 lead, watched Memphis score 42 unanswered points as the Tigers rolled to a 49-10 dismantling of the Bulls at Raymond James Stadium. Memphis moved to 10-1, 6-1 in the American Athletic Conference West Division, on the campaign and kept their hopes alive for a berth in the AAC Championship game.  South Florida fell to 4-7 in 2019 and 2-5 in the AAC East.

The loss also eliminated USF from any kind of bowl consideration.  This is the first time during the Charlie Strong era that the Green & Gold will not be participating in any post season activity.

Now, here comes the really bad news.  It pains me to bring this to your attention because it is not my style to criticize a coaching decision.  Usually, being a former coach, I can see the rationale behind a coaching move no matter how strange it may seem to the casual fan.

Sadly, I have to call out HC Charlie Strong and his staff for three egregious coaching blunders.  The worst part, all of the errors took place while the outcome was still somewhat in doubt.

The first was early in the tilt.  After forcing a Memphis punt on their opening series, USF marched right down the field on six running plays to take an early 7-0 lead.  All good so far.

South Florida forced another Memphis punt and took over deep in their own territory.  Now, it’s a chess match between Bulls OC Kerwin Bell and Tigers DC Adam Fuller.

Bell made the mistake of forgetting the first rule of coaching.  That is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and it cost the Green & Gold dearly.

Bell thought he would go to trickeration and call three pass plays thinking that Fuller would stack his defense to stop the run.  The first was almost picked off as Memphis came with a Corner Cat. The second was incomplete and the third ended in a sack that was close to a safety.  After that series, the South Florida offense was almost non-existent and Fuller had Bell checkmated.

The second was worse.  With the Bulls trailing 21-10 after a Tigers TD, the Green & Gold took over with a little of two minutes left in the half.  2:04 to be exact.

Now, let me set the stage.  Memphis is out of time outs and South Florida has its full complement of ways to stop the clock.  Also, USF has over 100 yards rushing and less than 20 yards passing.  Plus, the home team was receiving the second half kickoff.

So, with those facts as a baseline, logic would dictate that the Bulls need to run the rock.  If they can gain substantial yardage, then the Green & Gold can use their time outs.  If they don’t, USF can let the clock run out and go to the locker room at halftime only down 11 points which is a manageable number especially when you get the football to start the second half.

Sadly, that would not be the case.  South Florida came out throwing and, after a short five yard completion that was sandwiched by two unsuccessful attempts to move the chains, the Bulls were forced to punt and gave Memphis the football with just under two minutes and decent field position at their own 27-yard line.

Of course, Murphy’s Law prevailed.  The Tigers, with no time outs, marched down the field,  After going 73 yards in 10 plays, the visitors scored five ticks left in the second period.  That put Memphis up 28-10 and, for all intents and purposes, the game was over.

Still, USF had life until early in the third period.  Facing a fourth-and-8 at the Memphis 39-yard line, HC Charlie Strong decided to forego the field goal and try for the first down.  That failed miserably and the Tigers took over on downs.

Obviously, no one on the staff brought up the fact the Bulls were down 18 points.  No matter how you slice and dice that, you need three scores.  Someone on the coaching staff needed to simply do the math.

USF needed two TDs and a two-point conversion plus a FG to tie.  They didn’t need them in that order either.

What the Green & Gold needed even more any type of score that would put points on the board and stop the Memphis momentum.  The Bulls got neither and with that, when it came to any possibility of winning, Elvis had left the building.

Now, the Bulls have to find a way to dig down deep and get ready to travel to Orlando for the War on I-4 with UCF.  Honestly, the only thing South Florida will be playing for is bragging rights and that should be enough to get ready to go up against your biggest rival.

Plus, there are players and coaches who are still with the Golden Knights who remember, in 2016 at the RayJay, how USF rubbed their noses in it. South Florida, instead of taking a knee, pushed across a meaningless score with 11 seconds to go to make the count 48-31.

Trust me, the crew in Orlando hasn’t forgot that.  The Black & Gold would love to hang a 60-burger on the Green & Gold or worse.  The Bulls need to come ready to play or they will get embarrassed.  That’s football karma, my friends.

Can the Bulls find a way to get a win on the day after Thanksgiving in O-Town?  Look for my GOAL LINE STAND column later this week for my four keys to victory.  Enjoy.

Photos courtesy of photo-journalist Jeff Fox (1st nine) and Trace Crisp (the balance).