Despite forcing six turnovers and conceding only one, the USF Bulls (1-1) fell 24-17 to the Maryland Terrapins (2-0) on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
By the numbers, this seemed to be a tough luck loss for the Bulls, who were only outgained by the Terps by just 60 yards (317-257). But the Bulls failed to have their offense convert a single point off any turnover, and they were also hit by an injury that could have long-lasting consequences for the season.
USF opened the game with a nice first play as Mike White connected with Sean Price for a gain of 12 yards. But White would not see the field again, as he left the game with a fracture in his left wrist. According to Coach Taggart in the post-game press conference, he's not playing next week either.
Steven Bench took over, and his first three drives resulted in all three-and-outs. It was just the beginning of an up-and-down day for the junior transfer from Penn State.
The defense, however, was hugely impressive. Maryland was efficient on their first drive, but then CB Johnny Ward came out of nowhere to pick off a deep route. It looked like a big play for the Terps, who had a receiver wide open, but the ball just didn't get there quicker than Ward did.
On the next Maryland drive, Jamie Byrd stripped the ball from Maryland running back Brandon Ross, and Todd Chandler recovered to give the Bulls a 1st and 10 from their own 37. But once again the offense couldn't do anything. Mattias Ciabatti punted it 46 yards from the USF 29, only to see William Likely return it 46 yards for Maryland. It set up an easy touchdown drive of only three plays and 32 yards to give Maryland a 7-0 lead.
After the Bulls picked up their first pair of first downs since the opening play of the game, Maryland took over on their 20-yard line after a Ciabatti punt became a touchback. But Devin Abraham forced another Maryland fumble that Auggie Sanchez scooped up for the 21-yard touchdown.
Maryland got a big return of 49 yards off the kickoff to set up some nice field position. It looked like the defense was going to make another stand and force the three and out, but Terps quarterback CJ Brown connected with Marcus Leak for a 45 yard touchdown pass to put Maryland back on top 14-7.
At the end of the first quarter, Bench didn't look threatening at all throwing the ball (just 2-8 for 21 yards). But his first pass of the second quarter went for 27 yards to Deonte Welch. Four plays later, Bench flashed some speed and scrambled for a 15-yard touchdown run to tie it at 14-14. Bench was 2-2 for 43 yards on the drive.
After an exchange of three-and-outs by both teams, Reshard Cliett came flying out of nowhere and drilled Brown to force a fumble that Maryland recovered. Three plays later, the Terps fumbled AGAIN and USF recovered on Maryland's 44. The Bulls put together a decent drive and set up Kloss for a 33- yard field goal try, but the snap was a ground ball to shortstop, and Mattias Ciabatti ended up turning it over after trying to salvage the play by scrambling.
The half ended with a 12-play drive by the Bulls resulting in another FG attempt (35 yards) for Kloss. This time it went off without a hitch (after a Maryland penalty gave the Bulls a second crack at it) and gave the Bulls a 17-14 lead going into halftime.
The Bulls opened the second half with another solid stop on defense, then drove it 44 yards on offense to give Marvin "Money" Kloss a 54-yard field goal attempt, but it fell just to the left for his first miss of 2014.
Maryland came back with a nice drive and got the ball into USF's half of the field for the first time since before the two-minute mark of the first quarter. After getting the ball all the way down to the 16 but committed their fifth turnover of the game, an interception by Auggie Sanchez. But as the theme goes, USF wasn't able to capitalize off the turnover. After one first down the Bulls punted. Again.
The fourth quarter started with a huge sack by Demetrius Hill for the Bulls, resulting in an 11-yard loss. USF forced a punt and got a nice return of 22 yards by Hassan Childs to give the Bulls the ball on their own 37. But a three-and-out was followed by a blocked punt that was scoop and scored by UM's Avery Thompson. With just over 12 minutes to play, it was 21-17 Maryland, with the Bulls still very much in contention for a big victory at home in front an announced crowd of 28,915.
And that's when everything went sour.
The Bulls would finish with -4 yards of offense in the quarter. After the punt block put Maryland, the Bulls not only went three and out, and actually went backwards- from the 22 all the way back to their own three-yard line.
The punt set up Maryland with fantastic field position, who started at the USF 38 and drove 34 yards before getting stopped via a fantastic goal line stand by the Bulls. Despite first and goal from the one yard line, Maryland's Wes Brown was stuffed three straight times for a net loss of three yards, and the chip shot field goal made it 24-17 with over five minutes remaining.
But on the very first play Bench forced an absolutely atrocious throw that was picked off by Alvin Hill. It took the air out of the stadium, and it looked over.
People started leaving the stadium in droves. Although there was quite a bit of lightning off in the distance, the game continued. And USF's defense stepped up once again, with Nigel Harris forcing and recovering a fumble by Alvin Reid. After all seemed lost, the Bulls SIXTH forced turnover gave life to the green and gold faithful yet again.
But once again the offense was not up to the challenge. They still had plenty of time (2:47 remaining), but Bench threw four straight incompletions, some of them not even close to their targets.
Bench finished 14-36 passing for 162 yards with one interception and no touchdowns. The leading receiver for the Bulls was Mike McFarland, who grabbed four balls for 55 yards in his first game of the year following a knee injury. A week after tying the USF single game rushing record with 275 yards, Marlon Mack finished with 73 yards on 22 carries for a 3.3 average.
The Maryland defense was selling out against the run most of the day, simply daring Bench to make throws to single-covered wide receivers. USF could've won this game. They should've won this game. There's no excuse for them not to walk away today with a win. The offense disappeared in the fourth quarter, and was totally ineffective for long stretches.
Willie Taggart stood by Bench after the game saying that he just didn't get any help, but also left the door wide open for true freshman Quinton Flowers to get some reps in the near future. The Bulls have already played the most popular player on any team, the backup quarterback, once this year. They did it twice last year due to injury and poor play. Will they do it twice in 2014 during the first three weeks of the season?