The Bulls won 38 to 22 on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in front of a sparse homecoming crowd. USF is now 5-1 (2-0), though, in spite of the victory, there were some issues on both sides of the ball that the Bulls have to work on. Let’s go through some of the biggest talking points.
Offense: Before I get to the individual performances and my general thoughts, there were some historic milestones reached during this game. It was the 10th straight game USF has scored at least 35 points. It was also the 10th straight game the Bulls went over 440 yards in total offense. They also rushed for over 200 yards in their 11th straight game, showing how the Gulf Coast offense continues to roll. Now, back to the individuals performances. Marlon Mack posted his 16th career 100 yard game with 18 carries for 152 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Mack has now tied BJ Daniels with 25 career rushing touchdowns, the most in program history. D’Ernest Johnson had 7 carries for 36 yards (caught 5 passes for 53 yards and two touchdowns) as the Bulls ran for 306 yards in this game (7.3 yards per carry) in their 556 total yards of offense. Quinton Flowers had a solid day, going 21 for 29 for 250 yards and three passing touchdowns. He also had 16 carries for 115 yards (7.2 yards per carry) and got a lot great runs in the 2nd half. On the receiving end, Rodney Adams had 7 receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown. Adams is now ranked 3rd all time in program history in receiving yards and is now 9th in total receptions as he continues to move up the all time ranks. Another gem from the offensive side of the ball was Mitchell Wilcox (with Kano Dillon out for an undisclosed reason) who had 2 receptions for 52 yards. The offense stalled at times throughout the game, but were able to total up the yards and made the key plays late. I had questions on the last play of the game (see the later section), but they got it done again.
Defense: Where to start after another interesting day. ECU totaled 476 yards with 186 of them coming on the ground as the Pirates averaged 5.2 yards per play and 4.8 yards per run. James Summers, the quarterback from last year, ran the ball 18 times for 114 yards and scored a touchdown (6.3 yards per carry). Gardner Minshew and Philip Nelson were a combined 33 for 56 for 301 yards and one touchdown (and one interception). Zay Jones had 18 for 145 yards and one touchdown to highlight the top performers for the Pirates’ offense. The Pirates were also 7 for 20 on third down and 3 for 6 on 4th down as they were able to extend drives as defense struggled to stop them effectively throughout the game. Once again, the Bulls struggled against the run and were picked apart by the passing game, allowing ECU to stay in the game late and coming within two points in the third quarter. What is going on? They can’t seem to get pressure, can’t stop the run, and opposing quarterbacks are able to find wide open receivers. It’s hard to watch and has become a constant theme for the group. Now, in the 4th quarter, the Bulls were able to get an interception from Nigel Harris, allowing the offense to score on the next play, swinging the momentum in USF’s favor, but before that it was touch and go. The media I sat with kept asking what are they doing out there and even some of the fans let out some boos after the Pirates were able to score on a late touchdown. They didn’t lose the game, but there are some issues that have not been corrected.
Nate Godwin led all Bulls with 10 tackles including one tackle for loss. Deatrick Nichols had 7 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss and a nice pass break up. Nigel Harris had 3 tackles and that nice interception. Bruce Hector had 4 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Auggie Sanchez had 6 tackles and a pass break-up. Overall the unit did produce 7 tackles for loss in the game, making some came late in the game. It wasn’t a solid game, but they did make some plays late. I just hope whatever the issue is, they get it fixed sooner than later.
Play-calling: I’ll be brief here because I probably covered some of it in the offensive and defensive recaps, but there were some questionable calls on both sides of the ball. On offense, I noticed the Bulls were working the sidelines hard for most of the game, never attempting to go vertical against the ECU secondary. Was this by design or was it something else? Did the wind play a factor (doubt it)? It just seemed weird to me with some of the short sideline passes that were being called on a consistent basis. Then of course was the call at the end of the game where USF tried to throw for another touchdown. I just want to know why? Take a knee and leave! I get you are allowed to go for points and it would be fun, but at that stage, just take the victory, avoid any injury and don’t appear to be running the score up on your opponent (its how it could be viewed). On the other side of the ball, the lack of blitzing was frustrating to watch throughout the game. Philip Nelson (before he left the game) and Gardner Minshew, were able to stand tall in the pocket throughout the game and picked the defense part, leading extended drives. Why didn’t Raymond Woodie dial up some pressure? I’m not a coach, but when your front four can’t get to the quarterback throughout the game, on a consistent basis, you would think to bring at least an extra rusher or two, just my two cents.
Penalties: USF had 9 penalties called on them for 101 yards, which is just awful. One offensive pass interference call, multiple holding calls, and others hurt the Bulls throughout the game. Yes, USF was able to power through it and move the ball despite the negative yards, but in the future it may not be that easy. They have to clean that up and it was something Coach Taggart touched on.
Special teams: Overall, it was a solid day at the office for the unit. Jonathan Hernandez had four punts, averaging 34.2 yards per kick, including two inside the ECU 20-yard line. He did have a 13 yard shank on one of the kicks, but it didn’t cost USF anything. Emilio Nadelman made his one field goal attempt and had one touchback on the kick-offs. The coverage unit on those kick-offs was solid in this game, bottling up the Pirate returners. The funnest note were the four kick returns by tight end Mitchell Wilcox, who was out there as an up-man. ECU was kicking short on purpose and Wilcox caught four of them, returning the rock for 23 yards total. You won’t see that every week.
Homecoming: I have to vent here a little bit. It was homecoming, a special time for the University when the alumni return and everyone comes together in school spirit. Well, in spirit they come together because the stadium, under sunny skies and not a cloud to be seen, was sparsely filled (and I’m being generous here). Maybe the noon kick-off caused the woeful turnout or maybe it was the warmer temperatures after 1 PM, but whatever the excuse was it was simply bad. The Bulls are winning, putting up points, and are fun to watch, yet fans (and especially that student section, your tickets are FREE), did not turn out in the way they should have.
Final word: At the end of the day, USF won despite the number of issues I’ve talked about (sorry this review ran longer than usual). We won by 16 points and yet it feels strange. As I left the press box at the end of the game there were several media guys saying the same thing, this game just felt weird. Was it the sloppy play? Was it the lack of energy from the lack of fans? I think its a combination effect and most of it is correctable. The Bulls host Uconn next Saturday in a huge game. I hope the fans turn out, the Bulls wake up, and get another victory.
by Matt Staton
SoFloBulls.com Columnist | @USFMatt
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