South Florida: Heartbreaking Defeat Offers Lessons

South Florida Bulls fans reacts after the Houston Cougars scored the game winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

For the South Florida Bulls, Saturday’s heartbreaking defeat offered many things. A perfect season was ruined, thanks in large part to a sputtering offense and defense that couldn’t make a stand when needed most.

That created a perfect storm, one the Houston Cougars capitalized on. A 30 yard completion on 4th and 24 set up the winning score, and just like that a dream was crushed. The Bulls are no longer unbeaten, a sobering reminder of how hard it is to achieve perfection in college football today.

A tough pill to swallow, there’s still hope though. The Bulls still have a shot at winning the American Athletic Conference title and going to a New Years Six bowl game. It won’t be easy, as they must now win out. That includes a victory over undefeated UCF in Orlando.

Either way, the Bulls learned some lessons from this heartbreak. One, streaks don’t last forever. They should look no further than Clemson, Penn State and TCU for proof of that. Or, if they want to stay local, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning had multiple streaks broken in a loss that came mere hours after South Florida’s perfect season was halted.

Secondly, subpar play can only get you so far. The Bulls have been playing with fire all season, allowing teams to hang around before finding their groove in the second half. Good teams will make you pay for that, something South Florida found out the hard way.

Finally, the inability to convert in the red zone can prove costly. That stood out three times in this game. The Bulls were twice stopped on 4th and 1, giving Houston the ball back. Then, with time winding down in the fourth quarter, they took a 30 yard field goal instead of going for the touchdown. Not a bad decision if the defense had knocked the ball down on 4th and forever.

Head coach Charlie Strong echoed those sentiments in his post game press conference, saying “We needed to knock the ball down on 4th and 24.” He went on to add “We were chasing. Needed to make tackles in the run game.”

On the loss, Strong said “It’s hard to go undefeated. We still have our goals in front of us though.”

Will the South Florida Bulls use these lessons as motivation going forward? While unknown, their chances at a conference crown hinge on their ability to bounce back.

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