No matter how the Willie Taggart era progresses, this last game against Cincinnati is going to be a footnote. People will not remember it. It will not be referenced in coming seasons like, say, the comeback against Tulsa or the near-miss at Wisconsin. On the outside, there was nothing remarkable about this game. The score was more or less where I thought it was going to end up; the Bulls scored their typical 17 points and got shredded by a good Bearcats offense. Yippee.
That's one of the only hints of solace I can draw from this weekend, because those of us who sacrificed our Friday nights to sit down and watch this one know that this was one of the ugliest USF games in recent memory. There was nothing aesthetically pleasing about this game for either side: USF fumbled six snaps between the two quarterbacks they played (and a punter!), threw two interceptions on deep jump balls, and had two players ejected. Cincinnati played the cleaner game, but still lost their star quarterback halfway through and lost two incredibly fluky fumbles. It was the kind of game that you felt the need to shower off your body immediately afterward.
Lost in all the muck, though, was the fact that this game was actually incredibly winnable, which makes it all the more painful. It's one thing for a team to come in and run a train on you (hi, NC State!) and put the game away by halftime. That didn't happen here-- and that's not meant to take anything away from Cincinnati, who have a fine team and hopefully are on the way to curing some of their defensive woes. The Bearcats moved the ball at will with Gunner Kiel in the game, but still gave the Bulls short fields on a couple of boneheaded turnovers. They began the second half with a comfortable lead, but completely shut down on offense for a while once Munchie Legaux took over, giving the Bulls a perfect window to sneak back into the game. Had USF played even a mediocre game, they could've made a contest of this. They did not, and they are truly lucky that the final score wasn't worse.
Once you get past all the one-off mistakes like Mike White handling the ball like a bar of soap, or Rodney Adams tripping over the turf monster, you're still left with an all-timer of a bad performance by the defense, a complete failure to run the ball against a very bad run defense, and a smorgasbord of questionable coaching decisions. Why didn't Taggart elect to go for two after either of the fourth-quarter touchdowns that could've cut the lead to two possessions? What are we to make of his handling of Quinton Flowers, who was apparently ready to play against NC State but not now? I was much, much more peeved about Flowers before Jamie pointed out that it's very possible for him to play sparingly in the first half of the season and still qualify for a redshirt-- B.J. Daniels actually did it back in 2008.
The fun thing about this season is that none of these games, good or bad, carry much weight beyond a single week. After the Bulls got rocked by NC State, they responded with probably their two best games of the year against UConn and Wisconsin. Similarly, if the Bulls can come out and beat Houston on Saturday-- and that's certainly not out of the question, given the up-and-down nature of this young team thus far-- this performance will be entirely forgotten. Still, there's the lingering feeling that even though their win-loss record is about where we assumed it would be at this point, this team just isn't as good as we hoped. That's not the end of the world--there's still plenty of football to be played, and this season was always going to be about putting the pieces in place for next year-- but depending on the next few games, we may be entering Year Three with more questions than answers.
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In an attempt to lighten the mood, today's Stray Observations were handpicked from Twitter. Last night I asked for one-word summations of the game, and you all delivered wonderfully:
"Offensive" - @JDentel
"embarrassing" - @HemUnit
"depressing" - @Outtaherrrrreee
"deflating" - @_KRock88
"disgust" - @dwwhite06
"vomitous" - @Moronitron
"Woof." - @dansidwell
"butterfingers" - @jcsan36
A reminder that no matter what USF puts us through, we have each other.