I don't know where to begin to describe everything that went wrong in the McNeese State fiasco. But in the third quarter, I found myself thinking of Marquette. Because that game combined the two different types of USF-Marquette basketball games: "USF gets crushed because the opponent is significantly better at every position" and "USF does good things but finds the most mind-boggling ways to defeat themselves." And it was 90% the former. Dare I say that McNeese State was the dog, and we were the tree?
I'm too numb to try and string together any more narrative than that, so I'll just list my observations in bullet points:
- Matt Floyd was doubleplusungood. He didn't look terrible on the first couple drives, but when McNeese State started loading up the box to stop the run, Floyd could not make the necessary plays to take advantage. Going into the half, Taggart's assessment to the sideline reporter was pointed: "he's not making reads, he's not making the right throws." And Taggart looked pissed, which was nice to see after Skip Holtz's "we competed in the first half" shit. Unfortunately, pick-sixes to end the first half and start the second half dug too deep a hole.
- We may not know who our quarterback is, but we do know who he isn't. It remains to be seen if Bobby Eveld is the answer, or if we'll see Steven Bench at some point. But it's clear that the Matt Floyd era is over. Eveld looked pretty good, even making a Grothe-esque scramble and completion on 4th-and-13, if Grothe were running in molasses. But the game was largely decided by the time Eveld was in, and he was just making basic throws against passive defenses. Still, that's something.
- Nobody else played particularly well either. I was shocked with the ease at which McNeese State ran the ball down the throats of USF's supposedly strong defensive line. USF got no pressure on McNeese' QBs, and they were constantly in second and short. And other than the opening Marcus Shaw touchdown, USF's offensive line didn't open holes and didn't protect the QB, until the game was out of reach and McNeese stopped blitzing. Weren't the lines supposed to be USF's strength this year? If they're a weakness, this team is in very deep trouble.
- Special teams were a disaster. Not just the safety on the bad long snap or the missed 37-yard field goal, but smaller things like Derrick Hopkins bringing three different kickoffs out from well deep in the end zone. Two of those three returns put USF in very bad field position, which turned USF offensive mistakes into easy McNeese State touchdowns and started the landslide.
- Marcus Shaw may be the real deal. If there is a bright spot, this is it. He ripped off a 75-yard touchdown on his first play, and looked like a home run threat most of the times he got the ball. I know USF got behind and had to start throwing the ball, but a shotgun trap play to Shaw might have yielded big yardage if it were ever tried. Apparently we're going to be behind a lot this season, so it's time to start getting creative about such situations. With many other areas of the team looking weak, let's hope this wasn't a Darrell-Scott-against-FAMU stat line.
- The defensive playcalling was Cosh-esque at times. And I do not use the C-word lightly. I consider Chris Cosh the most incompetent defensive coach to walk a sideline, and that includes Dave Wannstedt. One particular third-and-8 call was a complete howler; with the game still somewhat winnable, Chuck Bresnahan called what looked like a nickel prevent defense, with four down linemen and enough room underneath to land the goddamn Space Shuttle:
All McNeese had to do was set up a wide receiver screen, which they did because they made the right adjustments all game long. Ten yards, first down McNeese, and they made it look easy.
- The second half of the third quarter was a comedy of errors. After McNeese went up 43-14 -- Christ, I still can't believe I'm typing that -- USF was moving the ball with Eveld and hinting that they were only mostly dead. Here's where the universe just started toying with USF, Marquette basketball style:
- Hopkins' third kickoff return from deep in the end zone. He manages to get it all the way to the 38, and was one block away from being in the clear, but he'd run about 200 yards to get to that point and was clearly out of gas. Mind you, Hopkins is a Big East track champion.
- Big first down run by Michael Pierre overturned on a holding penalty, which I think was USF's first penalty of the game.
- Touchdown pass to Mike McFarland called back on offensive pass interference by McFarland, moving USF back to 1st-and-25 from the 37.
- Eveld makes a perfect throw to Ruben Gonzalez inside the 5, who just plain drops it.
- On 4th and 13, Eveld makes the aforementioned great scramble and against-his-body throw, hits Sean Price right in the numbers, and he just drops it. But McNeese State roughs the passer, so USF wins the chance to fail some more.
- While all this was going on, some kid in the stands was doing a one-man Statler and Waldorf act, which was being picked up by the ESPN microphones. "Throw it!" Eveld throws it.
- The cupboard may, in fact, be bare. I don't take Doug Graber too seriously, but in the third quarter he said that Willie Taggart had told him that the talent level at USF was, well, not as good as he was hoping. This is in sharp contrast to the optimistic persona we've otherwise seen from Coach T. But that may be the reality of this season: get on the bus... but the ride might be bumpy for awhile.