One year ago the USF Bulls got off to the best start in the history of their program. They were 7-0 and the Houston Cougars came to town. The Bulls looked like they were in great position to get to 8-0 until D’Eriq King converted a 4th and forever. This afternoon the Bulls were 7-0 and headed into Houston looking to keep a dream season going. The biggest play of the game once again involved D’Eriq King on 4th down. USF had been down 2 touchdowns early, but had cut the lead to 2 points in the 3rd quarter. The defense had trouble getting off the field on 3rd down all day long, but finally got a stop. Major Applewhite had other plans. He kept his offense out on the field on 4th and 7 from the USF 36 yard line. The play call was a quarterback draw and USF looked like they had King dead to rights in the back field. The Houston quarterback had other ideas. He escaped from the backfield and then used a beautiful spin move in the secondary. At least 5 Bulls had the chance to bring down King on the 36-yard touchdown run. That score put Houston up by 9 and USF would never get closer than that 2-point deficit. King finished the day with 419 yards passing and 5 touchdowns through the air. He combined that with 132 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns as the Cougars ended USF’s dream of an unbeaten season for the 2nd straight year with a 57-36 victory.
The Bulls deferred to the 2nd half and gave D’Eriq King and the Houston offense the ball to start the game. Coach Strong’s defense had the Cougars in 2 separate 3rd and long situations, but weren’t able to get off of the field. That bit big time when King faked a jet sweep and was off to the races with a 47 yard touchdown run. USF found themselves with a big 3rd down of their own on their 1st drive, but Mitchell Wilcox dropped what would have been a sure 1st down. Houston then went right down the field again. This time they used the jet sweep instead of faking it and Marquez Stevenson took it 14 yards for a touchdown. By the end of the quarter the Bulls had racked up more penalty yards at 45 than their 27 rushing yards.
The 2nd quarter started off on a much better foot for the Bulls. They converted a 3rd and short on the opening play of the quarter and never looked back. Runs by Johnny Ford and Blake Barnett set up Jordan Cronkrite’s 1 yard touchdown run that cut the lead in half. The momentum continued to build for USF after that. Mekhi LaPointe intercepted King on the first play of the Houston drive and then Ford took over. The freshman’s 32 yard touchdown run tied the game up at 14. King didn’t let that interception get to him. He connected on multiple deep passes on the next drive including a 38 yard touchdown to Marquez Stevenson to put his team back in front. It continued to go back and forth for the remainder of the quarter. On the next Bulls posesion Johnny Ford turned what looked like a loss into a 17 yard touchdown run with the help of a great block from Deangelo Antoine. Houston’s offense couldn’t be stopped either. They went right down the field again and King connected with Courtney Lark on a 30-yard touchdown pass to put his team back in front.
USF couldn’t muster much on their 1st drive of the 3rd quarter, but a great punt pinned Houston at their own 1-yard line. That was huge because a busted route led to King being called for intentional grounding in the endzone. That resulted in a safety which made it a 5 point game and Barnett and the boys got the ball back in great field position. USF couldn’t take full advantage of that field position and had to settle for a Coby Weiss 23-yard field goal. The biggest play of the game up until that point happened on the next Houston possession. Houston took a risk by going for it on 4th down from the USF 36 yard line. The play call was a quarterback draw. At least 5 Bulls had a chance to bring down D’Eriq king, including multiple in the backfield. King got through those tackles and spun through the secondary all the way to the endzone. That 36 yard scamper put the Cougars on top 35-26 midway through the quarter. USF had a very promising drive going and it looked like they drew within 2 on a Johnny Ford touchdown run, but a questionable holding penalty negated that score. Houston then held strong and forced the Bulls to settle for a field goal for the 2nd straight drive. Settling for 3 would come back to bite the Bulls. King’s monster day continued on the very next drive. He tossed it to Jeremy Singleton for a 52-yard touchdown pass. Houston would convert a 2-point attempt to put them up 43-29. USF demonstrated their never out mentality on the next drive. Blake Barnett sent a rocket of a pass to Deangelo Antoine and he stumbled into the endzone for a 39-yard touchdown. That score made it a single score game heading to the 4th quarter.
The start of the 4th quarter just further illustrated that the Houston offense couldn’t be stopped. King wasn’t the hero this time. It was Mulbah Car’s 2nd touchdown run of the season that put the Bulls in a 14 point hole once again. USF didn’t get a saving grace on a turnover on their next drive. Barnett was intercepted by Nick Watkins in the endzone as he looked to go for a deep touchdown pass. King led a 75 yard drive that ended with his 5th touchdown pass of the game to give Houston their biggest lead of the game at 57-36.
USF will now return home next week for the Salute To Service game. The Tulane Green Wave will be the opponent in the penultimate home game. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 at Raymond James Stadium.