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Citadel undone by turnovers, missed opportunities at USF

The Bulldogs had a real shot at a road upset over an FBS team, but were doomed by a disastrous punt and a few turnovers.

NCAA Football: Citadel at South Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t a complete disaster, but the Citadel’s trip to Tampa on Saturday wound up being unfruitful and frustrating.

In their third-ever meeting with the South Florida Bulls, the Bulldogs fell 27-6 in their first of four games this fall. It was the first-ever win for first-year USF head coach Jeff Scott.

Things started out strong for the Military College of South Carolina, as they took an early 3-0 lead. Then, it unraveled quickly.

After falling behind 7-6, the Citadel lined up to punt out of their own end-zone after a three-play drive that went for negative-six yards. The snap went through the hands of Bulldogs’ punter Matt Campbell. It appeared that he would initially salvage the broken play, recovering the ball and breaking a tackle, but his last-ditch effort to boot the ball away didn’t go as planned as the ball sailed into the arms of Bulls’ receiver Omarion Dollison, giving USF an easy touchdown.

USF scored again on its next possession, which followed another three-and-out from the Citadel. Noah Johnson scampered into pay-dirt from nine yards out for the Bulls. USF finished the day with 302 rushing yards on 39 carries, good enough for a 7.7 yards per-carry average.

Where USF really had the advantage was in the turnover game. The Citadel fumbled four times and lost two of them, and threw an interception. In addition to the fiasco on Campbell’s second quarter punt, the Bulldogs also missed a field goal.

Still, the Citadel trailed by just two possessions heading into the fourth quarter. But following a nine-play 32-yard drive from the Bulldogs (which chewed up nearly four minutes of clock) that ended in a punt, USF quickly pieced together an 86-yard scoring drive to put the game out of reach.

It was a rough passing day for Citadel quarterback Brandon Rainey, as he completed just 4-of-18 passes for 84 yards. Rainey did lead the team in rushing, gaining 65 yards on 20 carries. Keefe White and Logan Braucht combined for 76 yards on 22 carries. White also caught two passes for 40 yards.

“When you are playing these FBS teams, you have to play perfect,” Rainey told the Charleston Post & Courier after the game. “And we had some chances to take advantage of things. We had a lot of young guys out there playing, and they played their hearts out. Our effort was there; we’ve just got to clean up mistakes and we’ll be all right.”

Indeed, the Citadel’s offensive performance against USF felt like a missed opportunity. Despite the turnovers and inconsistent drives, they still had possession of the ball for about five more minutes than the Bulls. This was absolutely a winnable game for the Bulldogs; they just simply didn’t have the poise to perform on the road in a stadium with about 65,000 empty seats.

Willie Eubanks III was the star on defense for the Citadel, racking up 12 solo tackles, three of which were for losses. He also had a sack. In all, the Bulldogs tallied 11 TFL’s going against an offensive line that was missing three starters.

The Citadel’s schedule won’t immediately get any easier. Next up on Saturday, Sept. 19 is a road trip across the state to No. 1 Clemson.