There are genuine reasons to believe that the USF football program will find its bearings under head coach Jeff Scott. USF’s 2021 season opener, unfortunately, provided absolutely none of those reasons, as the Bulls were thoroughly flattened by NC State, 45-0.
There were some not-terrible things. True freshman Timmy McClain took over in the first half for an extremely ineffective Cade Fortin and was entertaining, if not effective. McClain finished 7 of 13 passing for 126 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions (though in fairness, both of them occurred on third down plays in the red zone where he understandably tried to force the ball). He provided a spark for the Bulls on the ground and showed his throwing chops on a couple long balls to Xavier Weaver, who was targeted eight times and hauled in the two passes for 73 yards.
Otherwise, the USF offense was basically dead in the water from the opening whistle. The Bulls had eight possessions in the first half, and punted on the first seven, going three-and-out on five of them. Darrian Felix got the start at running back and led the Bulls’ backfield-by-committee with eight carries, though no USF player managed over 26 yards on the ground.
The defense, to their credit, held firm for a bit. After surrendering a touchdown on the Wolfpack’s opening drive on a gorgeous wheel route where NC State halfback Ricky Person Jr. cooked the linebacker Dwayne Boyles in coverage en route to an easy six points, they settled in and held the Pack to just three points on a couple short fields. The Bulls were down 10-0 after the first quarter, but with the defense playing stingy there was some hope that the offense could grow into the game.
Said hope did not last very long. After another Bulls three-and-out, the dam burst on the next NC State series when Person punctuated a six-play, 70-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run. Auburn transfer Matthew Hill provided a spark with an interception on the next Pack series, but the Bulls couldn’t do anything with it. The half ended 24-0 after Person scored another TD and a promising Bulls drive was cut short by a McClain interception.
The second half provided more of the same. After the teams traded punts, the Bulls’ defense finally gave way, as the Wolfpack marched up and down the field for three consecutive touchdowns to push the score to 45-0. USF put Fortin back in the game for the last couple series and nearly drove down the field to add a mercy touchdown, but a couple of passes to Weaver in the end zone fell incomplete, and the demolition was complete. Fortin finished 7 for 20 for 41 yards passing and one interception, with most of the yardage coming in the final two drives.
It would be nice to say that a loss like this was unfathomably bad, but regrettably such losses have become very easy for USF fans to fathom as of late. This was the Bulls’ third straight shutout loss in their FBS opener, and considering the opposition (NC State may have a tremendous season, but they don’t yet have the cachet of a ranked Wisconsin or Notre Dame), it may have been the most embarrassing yet. It is, of course, too early to draw any sort of substantive conclusions on the Jeff Scott era, but his second season - just like his first - is off to an absolutely miserable start.