Tampa, FL 08/30/2019 - After a lengthy off season following the six straight losses to end the 2018 season, Bulls fans found reasons to feel optimistic (again) about USF Football. The 2018 season showed some ugly sides that led to the dismissal of both players and coaches. The enigma at the center of the storm, Charlie Strong, did what Charlie does, he "cleaned house".
2019 was supposed to be different. Players are a year older, bigger and more mature. New assistants and a new offense. Players were reported to be closer to each other - and closer to Coach Strong who allegedly began revealing a personality to those around him. #PlayFastScoreFaster was a hashtag everyone wanted to use and observe. A wave of renewed optimism seemed to be sweeping some around Fowler Avenue and in the ether of the internet.
But as players left the tunnel for warm ups, one thing remained the same. Little energy. A "sullen look" as they took the field - perhaps imitating Strong's version of a business look - that far off, detached and unemotional presence. A lot looked the same from that point on, save for an old fashioned player/coach confrontation on the sideline. Well, Johnny Ford was held out of the game, coach's decision.
The Bulls defense was porous in 2018 and remained so Friday night. Granted, Wisconsin boasts a Heisman and, perhaps, NFL ready running back that simply had his way with the Bulls. He, Jonathan Taylor, left the game early but not before amassing 135 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The Badgers grinded out 234 yards on the ground. But the Bulls also gave up a personal record high passing yards to Badger QB Jack Coan who finished with 193 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. This was a quarterback that was dueling for the starting job with a freshman just a week ago. During one stretch in the first half, Coan completed eleven straight pass attempts.
The Bulls, on the other hand, struggled to get anything going on offense, finishing the night with just 157 total yards. The Bulls new offense crossed the 50 yard line once the entire evening on their last lifeless, scoreless possession.
Early opportunities were erased on dropped balls. When combined with an ineffective rushing game, the Bulls new offense failed to live up to the hype and hopes many had allowed to develop over the spring and fall camps. The Bulls finished the night with 26 rushing yards on 23 attempts. Quarterback Blake Barnett was ineffective, completing only 13 of 30 attempts - again, he didn't have a lot of help. He left the game with 109 yards and two interceptions; and was sacked three times.
Afterwards, Charlie Strong lamented "It just shows you, we've got a lot of work (to do). We've still got a season in front of us and we just got to get ready. The thing I told our team just a few minutes ago is, 'You don't point fingers. Now, we've got to go back to work."
Let's hope that work starts Saturday morning.