TAMPA — There’s no need to apologize for victories. No team realizes that more than the University of South Florida Bulls (2-4, 2-0). USF suddenly finds itself tied for first place in the American Athletic Conference following a two-game winning streak, in which the Bulls scored zero offensive touchdowns.
That smoke-and-mirrors trick hasn’t been done since 2002, when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish pulled it off in Tyrone Willingham’s first season.
“I guess it’s always a positive to get a win,’’ said USF coach Willie Taggart, whose team defeated Cincinnati (26-20) and Connecticut (13-10). “That’s also two weeks in a row where we’ve dropped touchdown passes. It’s just great to get a victory, no matter how they come, especially for our program and where we are right now.’’
It’s a tribute to USF’s defense, playing lights-out ball, which has scored touchdowns in three straight games. It’s a testament to excellent special teams, featuring junior PK Marvin Kloss and sophomore P Mattias Ciabatti. And it’s also indicative of USF’s offense protecting the ball and abandoning its early season giveaway tendencies.
“They’re very aggressive on defense, which you need to be when your offense is sputtering,’’ Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. “But that’s amazing to win two ball games in a row without scoring an offensive touchdown.’’
Can the Bulls have long-term success with this approach?
Of course not.
You want amazing? Check out these numbers:
• USF has six offensive touchdowns, tied for last nationally with winless Southern Miss and winless Miami (Ohio). Baylor already has 40 TDs.
• USF ranks No. 121 nationally in third-down conversions (23.3 percent), while Louisville is first (63.6). USF never even reached the red zone (opponent’s 20-yard line) against UConn.
• Before the past two victories, USF was 0-14 all-time when it didn’t score an offensive touchdown. Ten were road games. One was a 14-0 loss to N.C. State in the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
• Dating to last year, after QB B.J. Daniels suffered a season-ending injury, USF has been held without an offensive touchdown in five of its past nine games.
“Look, we’ve got to produce some points on offense,’’ Taggart said. “We know that.’’
There are mitigating circumstances. Through injuries or Taggart’s decision, USF already has changed quarterbacks six times and used three different starters. Senior RB Marcus Shaw, the offensive catalyst, was hurt and didn’t play at UConn.
Still, that’s eight straight quarters without an offensive touchdown, one shy of the school record set in 2010 during the first three Big East games under Skip Holtz. What gives?
“It’s not about luck, it’s more about the confidence coach Taggart builds within the team,’’ said UConn interim coach T.J. Weist, who worked with Taggart at Western Kentucky. “It comes out in critical situations. A lot of times (that confidence) makes a difference for the team in close games. He kept it positive with that team, even though they were 0-4.’’
Since then, USF’s outlook has flip-flopped. Now there’s a glimmer of hope. Victories have occurred. Can offensive touchdowns be far behind?
Votes of confidence: Donning the cowboy boots he wore during last season’s NCAA Tournament win at Texas Tech, women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez had his team dressed for success at Monday’s AAC media day in Connecticut. USF was picked No. 3 in the coaches preseason poll, behind defending national champion UConn and national runner-up Louisville. “If we do finish No. 3 (in the AAC), we’re not worried about getting in the NCAA Tournament or not,’’ Fernandez said. “We’re going to be in.’’
Bulls Bits: Men’s golf sophomore Chase Koepka captured his second individual title of the fall by winning the Auto Trader.com Collegiate Classic by two shots. USF was second as a team, trailing Georgia State by two shots. …Sophomore outside hitter Erin Fairs was named AAC volleyball player of the week. The Bulls are at SMU on Friday and at Houston on Sunday. …Midfielder Lindo Mfeka, whose goal helped USF tie Temple 1-1, was named AAC men’s soccer rookie of the week. Mfeka had another goal in Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw with SIU-Edwardsville. The Bulls (4-2-6) travel to Rutgers on Saturday night, then host UCF next Wednesday night.