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September 28, 2013
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A two-yard punt. A fumble in the end zone. 2-of-14 on third-down conversions.
Those three occurrences sum up the numerous problems the USF Bulls faced against the No. 15 Miami Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon. The Bulls would go on to lose by the score of 49-21, keeping the team winless on the season and in the cellar of the American Athletic Conference.
Miami looked every bit of a Top 10 team, building up a 21-point lead in the second quarter that resulted in starting QB Stephen Morris being pulled to prevent any further injury to his ankle. Morris' replacement, Ryan Williams, had little difficulty picking apart the USF pass defense, throwing for 153 yards on eight passes.
But perhaps the reason the Hurricanes looked so good is because the Bulls made them look that way. USF had just 13 first downs in this game compared to Miami's 22, and possibly more staggering is that the Bulls went just 2-of-14 on third down conversions. Tie those stats in with turning the ball over three times, and a loss of this magnitude is hardly surprising.
"We came into this game knowing that Miami is a 'big play' team, and that they would go deep on first and second down," Coach Taggart said, "Our guys just didn't trust it, and we didn't do what we were supposed to do."
It is hard to say where USF will go from here, as the only position in which the Bulls seem solid is at running back with Marcus Shaw. Shaw has continually been better than the rest of his team, and today's game was no exception. The senior ran for all but two of USF's total rushing yards with 119, and he scored the only offensive touchdown of the game for the Bulls. He is undoubtedly the key player for the Bulls as they enter conference play.
The quarterback position is as unstable as ever, though it would be difficult to pin this loss on Steven Bench. Though his numbers were certainly not stellar, Bench had little time to get comfortable behind an offensive line that consistently crumbled a few seconds after the ball was snapped. Still, Bench was the source of each of the Bulls' three turnovers, and so his lack of ball security may call into question whether he should get the start against Cincinnati next weekend.
However, USF head coach Willie Taggart is quick to point out that today was Bench's first complete college football game, and noted that the growing pains will lessen with time.
"Bench has a tendency to hold onto the ball, and we have to coach him out of that. Those things have to come with time, with more reps. He's still learning this offense. He has to learn to throw the ball on time, and know when to throw the ball away. But Bench is so competitive; he really wants to be the guy to out and make big plays. He just has to know when to."
Though Bench and his team struggled throughout most of the game, they were able to rally together in the fourth quarter. Less than two minutes in, DE Julius Forte intercepted Miami third-string QB Gray Crow's pass on the Hurricanes' 11-yard line and returned it for a touchdown. Then with two seconds left in the game, Bench connected with WR Derrick Hopkins on a 16-yard pass to break the 20-point barrier that has challenged the Bulls in their past two games.
Able to end the game on a positive note, both players and coach said that they looked forward to entering conference play next week. It will be a fresh start after what Taggart referred to as "a terrible pre-season", and the team remains optimistic that it can turn this season around.
"I'm looking forward to Cincinnati," Bench said in his post-game press conference, "We're starting conference play next week, and I'm ready to go. We're all ready to go."