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USF Out-Coached, Again, Loses at Cincinnati 35-23

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The Bulls were once 7-0.

South Florida v Cincinnati Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

UPDATE: We have changed the headline to better reflect what happened in the game

The once 7-0 South Florida Bulls are now 7-3 and eliminated from contention for the AAC East title after they lost 35-23 to the Cincinnati Bearcats inside Nippert Stadium on Saturday night.

USF was without starting quarterback Blake Barnett due to a shoulder injury and redshirt sophomore Chris Oladokun earned his first career start in his place.

Things started well for USF offensively after the defense forced the Bearcats to punt on their opening possession. On second down, Oladokun threw a deep pass to senior Ryeshene Bronson who hauled in the pass one-handed and off the back of a UC defender for a 72-yard touchdown. Kicker Coby Weiss’s PAT attempt was blocked.

The Bearcats scored later in the first quarter after a short punt by Trent Schneider combined with a facemask penalty gave UC the ball at the USF 9. Three plays later, Bearcats’ QB Desmond Ridder found Khalil Lewis from eight yards out to give UC a 7-6 lead.

Weiss tacked on a 37-yard field goal to give USF a 9-7 lead heading into the second quarter. Ridder then found running back Michael Warren II wide open in the left flat for a 13-yard score just minutes into the quarter to give UC a 14-9 lead.

Redshirt junior quarterback Brett Kean entered the game for the Bulls and orchestrated a six play, 75 yard touchdown drive capped off with a 38-yard diving catch by tight end Mitchell Wilcox, who returned from an ankle injury that sidelined him last week versus Tulane.

USF took a 16-14 lead into halftime with the defense holding their own against one of the best teams in the conference. The defense allowed just 4.2 yards per play in the opening half.

Then the second half started and all of the problems that have plagued the Bulls during the first nine games came roaring back. Missed tackles, missed assignments, and poor coverage led to a 21-point third quarter for Cincinnati.

Warren carried the ball 28 times for 151 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and scampered 57 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter on third-and-one after shaking out of arm tackles and basically sealed the Bulls’ fate.

On the flip side, the Bulls were held to just 81 yards on the ground (they had 80 penalty yards). True freshman Johnny Ford led the team with 63 yards on ten carries, 35 of the yards came on two third-and-long runs that didn’t result in first downs.

Oladokun finished the night 10-of-22 passing for 165 yards and two scores. He was sacked four times. The offensive line was poor again. The Bearcats were consistently able to get pressure on USF forcing head coach Charlie Strong to stay with Oladokun in the second half due to his ability to escape pressure.

Down 35-23 with ten minutes to play, the Bulls went for it on fourth-and-one from their own 32-yard line and converted. Strong then elected to punt three plays later on fourth-and-five from their 37-yard line with 8:40 left in the game.

USF never got the ball back.

The Bearcats went on a 15-play, 58 yard drive and converted three third downs, including getting some help from linebacker Khalid McGee after he was flagged for unnecessary roughness on third-and-12.

USF will try to stop the three game skid next week at Temple. The Owls knocked off Houston 59-49 on Saturday in a game where Ryquell Armstead ran for...checks notes...six touchdowns. Wonderful. Everything’s fine.

Notable:

  • TE Mitchell Wilcox now has the most catches in a season by a tight end in school history with 35.
  • WR Tyre McCants’ 25-yard TD catch put him into a tie with former Bull Rodney Adams for most career TD catches with 16. He’s just one behind Andre Davis for the record.
  • USF was 2-of-15 on third down. They missed on their final five third down attempts.
  • USF punted on eight of their final nine possessions.