The No. 21 South Florida Bulls were shutout in the first and fourth quarter, allowed a program record 57 points, and had no answer for Houston Cougars quarterback D’Eriq King in a 57-36 loss on Saturday night at TDECU Stadium.
“Totally embarrassing,” head coach Charlie Strong said of his teams first loss since November 24, 2017. “We’re a better football team than what we showed today.”
The Bulls (7-1, 3-1 AAC) fell into a 14-0 hole six minutes into the game after the Cougars scored on their first two drives where they converted three times on third and nine or longer.
“You can’t surrender 13 out of 18 on third down,” Strong added.
USF responded in the second quarter however, putting together a 15 play, 79-yard drive capped off with a Jordan Cronkrite one-yard touchdown run before Mekhi LaPointe hauled in his first career interception and Johnny Ford found the end zone from 32-yards out 13 seconds later to tie things up.
The true freshman running back was impressive again, finishing with two touchdowns on 16 carries for 106 yards.
“I think today offensively for the most part, we played our most complete game, besides obviously the turnovers and the two field goals,” USF quarterback Blake Barnett said. “I think if we were more efficient in the red zone, that would’ve helped us a lot.”
Barnett finished 26-of-39 for 263 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
In the third quarter, trailing 28-21, a 62-yard Trent Schneider punt was downed perfectly at the Houston one-yard line and the Bulls defense forced an intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety to trim the deficit to 28-23.
Following a 41-yard return on the ensuing kickoff by Bentlee Sanders and a Cougars face mask penalty, the USF offense was poised to grab the lead but instead had to settle for a 23-yard Coby Weiss field goal.
The Bulls ended up settling for three points in back-to-back third-quarter red-zone possessions, and it proved costly.
King, who finished with a career-best 553 yards and accounted for seven total touchdowns, changed the game with his feet on a fourth and seven from USF’s 36-yard line in the third quarter, breaking multiple tackles and scampering into the end zone to make it 35-26.
“Just a momentum shifter,” linebacker Greg Reaves said. “Very costly...we still felt like we were in the game.”
Making a second straight start at middle linebacker, Reaves led the charge for USF defensively with a career-high 12 tackles.
King added 52-yard and 27-yard touchdown passes, torching the USF secondary to distance the Cougars in the fourth quarter.
“You can’t give up five touchdown throws,” Strong added. “Don’t let the ball get thrown over your head for big chunks, because teams aren’t patient enough to drive the football on you. They want the big throws, and we gave them to ‘em today.”
USF will host Tulane next Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
- Houston totaled 684 yards and was a combined 15-for-20 on third and fourth down.
- Senior linebacker Khalid McGee finished with 10 tackles for his third double-digit performance of the season, but was visibly upset with DB coach Blue Adams