Sep 25, 2021; Provo, Utah, USA; South Florida Bulls quarterback Timmy McClain (9) looks to pass in the second quarter against the Brigham Young Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

South Florida’s AAC losing streak looms large against Tulsa

Tulsa will be looking to remain in the conference title hunt while South Florida will just be seeking a win period when the two teams meet in an American Athletic Conference clash Saturday afternoon in Tampa, Fla.

The Golden Hurricane (2-4, 1-1 AAC) have won two of their last three outings after holding on for a 35-29 win over Memphis last week while the Bulls (1-4, 0-1) are coming off an open date with only a win over Florida A&M, an FCS foe, on the positive side of their ledger.

The Bulls have not won a league game since Nov. 26, 2019, when they beat East Carolina 45-20. Their conference losing streak reached 12 games with their 41-17 loss to SMU in their last outing.

Second-year coach Jeff Scott sees the open date as a chance to refocus the season.

“Our season is not going to be determined by our first five games,” he said. “It’s really going to be determined by our last seven games.”

Despite the record, Scott sees some positives in the Bulls’ early play. They outscored Florida 17-7 in the second half of a 42-20 loss to the Gators, got a 28-6 gap down to one score in a 35-27 loss at BYU, and were within 10 points late in an eventual 41-17 loss to SMU.

“We showed in two quarters in a couple of these games what we’re capable of,” Scott said, “but we’ve got to be a lot more consistent.”

True freshman Tim McClain (54 of 92 passing for 781 yards) will be making his fourth consecutive start at quarterback against a veteran Tulsa defense that starts four graduates along with five seniors and two juniors.

The Hurricane also have a two-prong rushing attack behind Shamari Brooks (416 yards) and Anthony Watkins (282).

Tulsa has an open date after this but then takes on Navy and league leader Cincinnati its next two games.

“It’s a difficult week and we don’t want to be thinking ahead,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “I don’t think we can afford to do that at all.”

–Field Level Media

SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) lets go of a pass during Saturday's game against ACU at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas on Sept. 4, 2021. Mordecai threw an SMU-record seven touchdowns as the Mustangs won 56-9.

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SMU’s explosive offense takes aim at USF in AAC opener

SMU junior quarterback Tanner Mordecai leads the nation this season with 20 passing touchdowns, a statistic in line with the pass-happy offensive philosophy of Mustangs coach Sonny Dykes.

But what SMU did last weekend against rival TCU should make defensive coordinators across the American Athletic Conference shudder. The Mustangs pounded out 350 rushing yards on 52 attempts in their 42-34 victory, passing the ball just eight times in the second half.

Ulysses Bentley IV (20 carries, 153 yards, one TD) and Tre Siggers (18 carries, 110 yards) surpassed 100 yards rushing for the Mustangs (4-0), who will host South Florida (1-3) on Saturday in the teams’ AAC opener.

“I think everybody was excited and had a lot of confidence about what we were able to do running the football,” Dykes said. “There’s nothing that’s more demoralizing to a football team than when someone can line up and just run right at them.

“We’ve talked about this since I got here, about running the football when everybody in the stadium knows you’re going to do it, and that’s hard to do. To me, that was what was pretty special about it.”

That SMU has developed a balanced offensive attack certainly has made others take notice.

“I think this will be the most talented offense that we’ve played to this point after watching them on video,” Bulls coach Jeff Scott said. “It’ll be a big-time challenge for us.”

The Bulls have grown accustomed to stiff challenges through an unforgiving non-conference schedule. USF rallied from a 21-point, first-quarter deficit last weekend against No. 15 BYU before falling 35-27, but might have discovered a quarterback.

Freshman Timmy McClain engineered five scoring drives over the final six possessions to lift the Bulls back into contention, with an unsuccessful onside kick in the fourth quarter finally stalling momentum.

South Florida incrementally has improved its results against quality competition, rebounding from a 45-point, season-opening loss to North Carolina State to a 22-point setback against Florida before making the Cougars sweat out the final minutes of their hard-earned win.

“I told the players that obviously we’re not happy with our record, but we also need to keep some perspective,” Scott said. “We’re the only team that’s played three teams that are currently ranked in the Top 25. We’ve played the most difficult four-game schedule of any team in the country coming off a season where we won one game. That’s as much adversity as you can have.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 11, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; South Florida Bulls quarterback Cade Fortin (6) drops back against the Florida Gators during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

QB job up for grabs as USF hosts Florida A&M

South Florida coach Jeff Scott closely evaluated his quarterbacks this week as the Bulls prepared to host Florida A&M in a nonconference contest Saturday night in Tampa, Fla.

Cade Fortin has started the first two games and completed 12 of 18 passes for 91 yards in last weekend’s 42-20 loss to Florida. Timmy McClain relieved him in the second half last week and led the Bulls to 17 points, completing 4 of 10 passes for 83 yards.

“We’re not going to name a starter right now,” Scott said this week. “Obviously, we’ve evaluated and learned some things from this last game. Really, we are challenging all the quarterbacks in that room to have a great week and see just who does the best job for the game plan this week.”

Katravis Marsh completed his only attempt in his first appearance last week. Ridge Jacobs has not played.

“We’ll put somebody out there first and if they do well, they’ll be the starter,” Scott said. “If they don’t, we’ll continue to give guys opportunities until somebody steps up and takes the job, which needs to happen here pretty soon.”

The Bulls (0-2) have lost 10 consecutive outings, but Scott thinks the second-half play against the Gators could be a pivotal point in their season after a 45-0 thumping by North Carolina State in the opener.

Interceptions by safeties Mekhi LaPointe and Brock Nichols sparked the second-half surge against Florida. Jaren Mangham scored on touchdown runs of 1 and 2 yards, and Xavier Weaver had two catches for 68 yards along with a 45-yard punt return.

Florida A&M (1-1) also showed some progress in its second game, bouncing back from a 7-6 loss to Jackson State to register a 34-7 win over Fort Valley State. The Rattlers scored 27 points in the second half.

“The defense played phenomenal for two weeks in a row, creating turnovers and collecting some sacks,” FAMU coach Willie Simmons said. “We still have a lot of work to do offensively. Need to fine-tune the details and play more consistent upfront.”

The coaches know each other well, as Simmons and Scott were teammates for three years at Clemson.

“We came in the same year (1999) in the same class,” Scott said. “He was a quarterback and I was a wide receiver.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 2, 2021; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack running back Ricky Person Jr. (8) runs the ball against the South Florida Bulls during the first half at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

NC State cruises to 45-0 rout of South Florida

Zonovan Knight rushed 16 times for 163 yards and a touchdown, leading North Carolina State to a 45-0 win over the South Florida in a nonconference game Thursday in Raleigh, N.C.

The Wolfpack finished with a 525-271 edge in total yards, sending the Bulls to their ninth straight loss since they won their 2020 opener.

NC State’s defense did its part, getting interceptions from Drake Thomas, Cyrus Fagan and Tanner Ingle.

Ricky Person Jr., NC State’s other big-time running back, gained 148 yards from scrimmage. He rushed 16 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught three passes for 43 yards and one score.

This was the first time since 2015 that NC State had two 100-yard rushers in the same game.

It was the season opener for both teams, but only the Wolfpack looked sharp. NC State quarterback Devin Leary completed 17 of 26 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted once.

Leary’s favorite target was Emeka Emezie, who caught five passes for 71 yards.

Meanwhile, USF quarterback Cade Fortin was benched after five drives. The Bulls got just one first down on those drives — on a run by Darrian Felix.

The Bulls went to true freshman Timmy McClain … and then back to Fortin after a pair of interceptions.

Fortin’s final stats: 7 of 20 for 41 yards with one interception. McClain completed 7 of 13 passes for 126 yards with two interceptions.

NC State led 10-0 after the first quarter and 24-0 at the half. The first half included Leary’s 33-yard TD pass to Person, Christopher Dunn’s 34-yard field goal and a pair of 11-yard running scores by Person.

The Wolfpack stretched their lead to 38-0 after three quarters. Knight ran 46 yards to the end zone, and Leary hit Christopher Toudle right between the numbers for a 7-yard score.

Jordan Houston, third on NC State’s running back depth chart, added a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

The Wolfpack defense preserved the shutout with a last-minute goal-line stand. On fourth-and-goal from the NC State 4, Fortin threw incomplete into the end zone.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars players celebrate after the game against the South Florida Bulls at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston-SMU, Navy-USF ppd. due to COVID-19 issues

Houston’s game at SMU and Navy’s contest at South Florida this weekend have been postponed due to positive COVID-19 cases among the Cougars’ and Bulls’ programs, the American Athletic Conference said Wednesday.

The postponement of Saturday’s tilt marks the fifth time that Houston (3-3, 3-2 AAC) has had a game canceled or moved due to COVID-19 issues. The previous four occasions dealt with concerns involving the Cougars’ opponents.

“The health and well-being of our student-athletes and staff remains our top priority,” Houston vice president for athletics Chris Pezman said. “Postponing a game is not an easy decision to make, but we appreciate the collaborative approach from SMU and the American Athletic Conference as we worked through this decision. We are also very appreciative of the continued care of our medical staff and athletic trainers, who have worked tirelessly throughout this season.”

As for SMU (7-2, 4-2), its game against TCU on Sept. 11 was canceled because of coronavirus issues.

Navy (3-4, 3-2) had its scheduled game against Temple on Sept. 26 altered due to COVID-19 issues. That game was played on Oct. 10, with the Midshipmen posting a 31-29 victory.

Navy’s games against Tulsa on Nov. 7 and Memphis on Nov. 14 were also postponed. No makeup dates for either game has been announced.

USF (1-7, 0-6) had its Sept. 26 game against Florida Atlantic postponed due to the virus. A makeup date for either game has yet to be announced.

–Field Level Media

Nov 7, 2020; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; South Florida Bulls quarterback Noah Johnson (0) carries the ball against Memphis Tigers defensive back Quindell Johnson (15) during the first half  at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

White helps Memphis edge South Florida

Brady White threw a touchdown pass to Calvin Austin with 63 seconds left, and Riley Patterson’s extra point provided the winning margin as host Memphis rallied to defeat South Florida 34-33 in an American Athletic Conference game on Saturday afternoon.

White completed 30 of 50 passes for 437 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception. Austin, a wide receiver, had five catches for 102 yards and two scores. Tight end Sean Dykes had seven catches for 147 yards and two scores.

Memphis (4-2, 3-2 AAC) trailed by 13 points with less than 3:30 left in the fourth quarter but managed to improve its home record this season to 4-0.

USF (1-6, 0-5) is the only winless team in AAC play this season. The Bulls have lost five straight road games, dating to last season.

Bulls quarterback Noah Johnson completed 20 of 29 passes for 217 yards, two TDs and no interceptions.

The Bulls also got four Spencer Shrader field goals — all of them longer than 40 yards.

In addition, South Florida’s defense came up with a pick-six by Daquan Evans and also turned Memphis over on downs three times, all in the first half.

But the Bulls’ defense could not come up with the stop they needed in the final seconds.

Evans intercepted a White pass in the second quarter and ran it 51 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bulls a 13-6 lead. The pass was a long out pattern, intended for Austin, but Evans stepped in front of it for the fourth pick of his career and his third this year.

White countered with a 65-yard touchdown pass to Austin, tying the score 13-13. White beat a blitz by lofting the ball over the top of South Florida’s defense.

South Florida closed its best first half of the season with a pair of Johnson TD throws — 75 yards to Kelley Joiner and 3 yards to Mitchell Brinkman. On his big play, Joiner was wide open in a gap in Memphis’ zone and raced the final 52 yards to the end zone.

Shrader’s third and fourth field goals of the game gave South Florida a 33-20 lead.

But Memphis cut its deficit to 33-27 on White’s 10-yard TD pass to Dykes with 3:19 left in the game.

The Tigers then forced a three-and-out punt and got the ball back on their own 24 with 2:23 left. White then led the winning, eight-play, 76-yard touchdown drive.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Memphis Tigers head coach Ryan Silverfield works the sidelines against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the second half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis to host struggling South Florida

The Memphis Tigers, who are 3-0 at home this season, will host the struggling South Florida Bulls in an American Athletic Conference game Saturday.

Memphis (3-2, 2-2), trying to remain on track for its seventh straight winning season, dominated USF 49-10 last year.

USF (1-5, 0-4) is the only winless team in AAC play this season. The Bulls have lost all three of their road games this season.

But the Bulls are not alone in their struggles. After Memphis went 12-2 last season and won the AAC championship, the Tigers lost coach Mike Norvell to Florida State.

New Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield then lost three huge offensive weapons, including receiver Antonio Gibson, who had 1,104 scrimmage yards before bolting for the NFL draft as a third-round pick.

In addition, sophomore running back Kenneth Gainwell, who had 2,069 scrimmage yards as a freshman, decided to skip this season after losing four family members to COVID-19. And senior receiver Damonte Coxie, who had 76 catches for 1,276 yards and nine touchdowns last year, shocked the Tigers last month when he left the team to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Without those players, the Tigers lost 30-27 to SMU in the second week of the season on a field goal with nine seconds left. Last week, Memphis lost 49-10 to Cincinnati.

Memphis was credited with just 5 yards rushing on 29 carries in that game, although that included 31 yards lost on sacks.

“In 23 years (of coaching),” Silverfield said, “I’ve never had a running game as ineffective as it was (against Cincinnati).”

Perhaps Memphis can get well against the Bulls. After all, USF ranks last in the 11-team AAC in scoring (18 points per game). The Bulls are seventh in points allowed (35.2).

Still, Jeff Scott, a former Clemson assistant who is in his first year running the USF program, said he is optimistic his Bulls can snap their five-game losing streak. If nothing else, they are well rested as they come off their bye week.

“We’ve had good energy in practice, guys flying around,” said Scott, who has had 18 first-time starters this year, including five freshmen. “I’ve been pleased.”

Meanwhile, Memphis’ defense has been a disappointment under new coordinator Mike MacIntyre, who came over from Ole Miss. The Tigers’ defense is eighth in the league in points allowed (36.2) and last in yards given up (556.8). The Tigers have been particularly bad on pass defense, ranking last in the conference (406.4).

An interesting matchup will be Memphis senior quarterback Brady White against a Bulls pass defense that leads the league in fewest yards allowed per game (183.8).

White, who has completed 62.5 percent of his passes this season, ranks second in the league in passing yards (338.2 per game).

White’s two biggest weapons are sophomore running back Rodrigues Clark and junior receiver Calvin Austin, both of whom rank third in the league in their specialty. Clark is averaging 87.4 rushing yards; Austin is averaging 109 yards in receptions.

USF’s most productive player is sophomore Johnny Ford, who leads the league in kick-return average (25.9) and ranks second in all-purpose yards (124.5).

But the Bulls are last in the league in third-down conversions, last in getting their defense off the field on third down and thus last in time of possession.

–Field Level Media

Sep 12, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; South Florida Bulls head coach Jeff Scott on the sidelines during the third quarter against the Citadel Bulldogs at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

Temple holds on for 39-37 win over South Florida

A week after losing when its own two-point conversion attempt failed, Temple stopped one with the game on the line and escaped with a 39-37 victory against visiting South Florida on Saturday in Philadelphia.

After Leonard Parker scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:03 left, USF backup quarterback Noah Johnson took a sweep to the left but was tackled for a loss by Owls safety Amir Tyler.

Temple (1-1, 1-1 American Athletic Conference), which missed a pair of two-point conversions in a season-opening 31-29 loss at Navy last weekend, won for the 11th time in its last 12 games at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Bulls (1-4, 0-3), who dropped their fourth consecutive game, were hurt by three lost fumbles and 11 penalties for 111 yards.

South Florida’s Jordan McCloud completed 15 of 26 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns. But a mishandled exchange between McCloud and Kelley Joiner allowed Arnold Ebiketie to scoop it up and return it 11 yards for a touchdown that put Temple ahead for good at 32-31 with 9:52 left in the fourth.

Ebiketie also had one of Temple’s four sacks and forced a fumble.

Temple’s Anthony Russo completed 30 of 42 passes for 270 yards and four touchdowns, including a 13-yarder to Randle Jones with 4:28 remaining.

Jones finished with 81 yards on eight catches while Jadan Blue caught nine passes for 60 yards and two scores. Blue took a hard hit from Antonio Grier, who was ejected for targeting with 2:17 left in the third quarter.

Temple’s offense totaled 412 yards and finished with 32 first downs.

South Florida running back Johnny Ford hurt his left ankle on a rush near the goal line with 1:14 left in the fourth. Ford finished with 206 all-purpose yards and one receiving touchdown.

–Field Level Media

Sep 12, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; South Florida Bulls head coach Jeff Scott, left, celebrates with Associate Director of Athletics Brian Siegrist while walking off the field after the game against the Citadel Bulldogs at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

USF pauses football activity to await test results

South Florida will pause all football activities while it awaits results of COVID-19 tests administered Wednesday after their most recent opponent, Notre Dame, canceled its upcoming game after multiple positive tests.

USF officials said an “abundance of caution” led to the move and that a decision on Saturday’s game against Florida Atlantic had not been made. FAU has yet to play a game in the 2020 season.

Saturday’s scheduled game between No. 7 Notre Dame and Wake Forest was postponed Tuesday after seven more Fighting Irish players tested positive for COVID-19. Notre Dame paused all football-related activities pending further testing. Overall, 13 Irish players were in isolation on Tuesday.

The Notre Dame-Wake Forest postponement followed reports that Notre Dame canceled Tuesday’s practice after four positive tests Monday and placed additional players in quarantine after contact tracing. None of those players competed Saturday in Notre Dame’s 52-0 victory over USF, the school stated Monday.

USF officials said tests before (Friday) and after (Monday) the game against Notre Dame both yielded no positive results.

–Field Level Media

Sep 12, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; South Florida Bulls head coach Jeff Scott celebrates with his team after the game against the Citadel Bulldogs at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

USF looks to spoil Taggart’s Florida Atlantic debut

South Florida will visit Florida Atlantic in a nonconference game Saturday in Boca Raton, Fla., one week after the teams faced adversity of different types.

USF suffered the worst loss in program history with a 52-0 trouncing at then-No. 7 Notre Dame.

At least the Bulls (1-1) reached the field. The Owls’ scheduled season opener at Georgia Southern was postponed after FAU players tested positive for COVID-19.

FAU head coach Willie Taggart, who replaced Lane Kiffin in December, said about 25 players would have been unable to play last week. On Monday, Taggart told media members he remained optimistic this week’s game would be played.

“It’s kind of like any other week — we prepare the guys that we have here and get ready for South Florida,” said Taggart, who will face USF for the first time since coaching the Bulls from 2013-16.

“With COVID, there are no certainties each and every week. You have to prepare with the guys you have. And as you prepare, there’s no guarantee they’ll still be there on Saturday.”

FAU entered the season having lost 15 starters from last year’s 11-3 team. The most glaring offensive departure was that of quarterback Chris Robison, who passed for 3,701 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions last season. Redshirt junior Nick Tronti, a dual threat, has been tabbed to start. Freshman Willie Taggart Jr. is among the QBs.

Junior Malcolm Davidson, who rushed for 711 yards (7.0 yards per carry) last season, headlines a veteran group of runners.

Redshirt senior John Mitchell leads a receiving corps that includes three graduate transfers: receivers TJ Chase (Clemson) and Aaron Young (Duke), and tight end Michael Irvin II (Miami).

Coordinator Jim Leavitt, USF head coach 1997-2009, coaches an Owls defense that lost 11 of its top 13 tacklers from last season. The top returnees include senior cornerback Zyon Gilbert and redshirt junior linebacker Ahman Ross, who moved from safety.

South Florida, which opened the season beating The Citadel 27-6, will be aiming to improve on both sides of the ball after being outgained 429-231 at Notre Dame.

Head coach Jeff Scott is in his first season after five years as Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator.

“They’re a fast football team. They can really run on both sides of the ball,” Taggart said. “They’re very aggressive, especially on defense.”

Sophomore Jordan McCloud was the most productive (8 of 14, 64 yards) of three Bulls quarterbacks who played vs. Notre Dame. Alcorn State transfer Noah Johnson also got significant time, and freshman Katravis Marsh played, too. North Carolina transfer Cade Fortin could return after being unavailable the first two games.

“It’s still open,” Scott said of the QB competition on the USF football weekly radio show. “Overall, we have just not been consistent enough at the quarterback or wide receiver position — that’s the most frustrating thing for me through two games.

“I really believe what I see in practice, that we have the ability to be explosive through the air.”

Sophomore Johnny Ford (six carries, 70 yards) led the Bulls’ ground attack last week.

Defensively, the Bulls sport a secondary that returns four 2019 starters: senior cornerbacks KJ Sails and Mike Hampton and junior safeties Nick Roberts and Bentlee Sanders.

The USF defensive line has had to replace ends Greg Reaves and Kirk Livingstone, who were stalwarts the past three seasons.

“We just try to communicate efficiently and go in with the mindset of grinding it out every single day,” said defensive tackle Thad Mangum, a graduate transfer from Wofford. “We know we have to learn and continue to grow each day to get better and better so we’re the anchor of the team.”

–Field Level Media