The University of South Florida Bulls have speed, skill and strength throughout their lineup. Now they need a couple of other qualities.
Lack of short-term memory.
USF was blitzed by the Florida State Seminoles, 55-35, on an afternoon when the nation took notice of the Bulls. Well, for a few seconds, anyway.
On the first play from scrimmage, USF hit an 84-yard touchdown pass. The Bulls got to enjoy that moment for all of about six seconds. FSU’s Dalvin Cook answered with a 75-yard scoring run and the offensive showcase was on.
Cook finished with a career-high 267 rushing yards. Meanwhile, FSU gained 647 yards overall, the most ever surrendered by a USF defense.
USF must learn from that experience. Then quickly forget about it.
The most meaningful part of USF’s season begins Saturday night when the Bulls (3-1) travel to face the Cincinnati Bearcats (3-1) in the American Athletic Conference opener.
In order to take the next step as a program, USF must make strides toward winning a conference title. The offensively potent Bulls have the team to do it, and what a game it could be if USF faces the Houston Cougars in the AAC Championship Game.
Here’s the perspective:
For a 20-year-old program, USF has achieved magnificent things. It has toppled FSU and Miami. It has won at Notre Dame, Auburn, Pittsburgh, Louisville and West Virginia. It has beaten Clemson in a bowl game. It has risen to the nation’s No. 2 ranking.
For all of that, though, USF’s best moments might have been last season, when the Bulls got hot, winning seven of their last eight regular-season games, closing with a flourish and coming within the brink of an AAC division championship.
It’s the biggest thing lacking in USF’s program — conference hardware.
“Preseason is over with,’’ USF coach Willie Taggart said. “The real season is here now. So whatever happened in the first four ballgames, kick that to the curb.
“What happens from now on is what’s important, especially if we learn from the mistakes that we had in those first four ballgames.’’
USF must especially dispense of a poor performance by junior quarterback Quinton Flowers, who was 5 of 14 for 160 yards (84 of those on the game’s first play) against FSU. He threw two interceptions on poor decisions and he largely struggled in the short passing game. He made other things happen (rushing for 159 yards), but that wasn’t enough to overcome the passing-game shortcomings.
“Quinton has done some good things and helped our football team,’’ Taggart said. “But he can be better than what he is.’’
Flowers will need to be better if USF is to achieve its conference aspirations.
“It’s important because this is what we set out to do,’’ Taggart said. “This our goal. This is what we want to get accomplished. We want to win this conference and it’s one game at a time. It’s a team that’s in our side of the conference, a team we knew we were going to have to battle with at their place, a hostile environment.
“But if you’re gonna be conference champs, these are things you have go through and you’ve got to accomplish in order to be those champs. All those things we know ahead of us.’’
USF has struggled at Nippert Stadium, going 1-5 in games against the Bearcats that were part of Conference USA, the Big East and now the AAC.
The freshest memory is from last season in Tampa, when USF put on a stunning show, flattening Cincinnati 65-27 and rolling to a 51-3 halftime advantage. The Bearcats had six turnovers, which USF turned into 24 points.
“That’s in the past,’’ Taggart said. “There’s nothing you can do about that one. And if you’re living on that one, you ain’t gonna move too far.’’
USF must purge its memory banks and move forward.
The biggest goal remains out there — a conference title. It’s time for USF to take that next step.