Penalties hadn't been a major issue for South Florida this season. Penalties, however, turned into a big problem Thursday night against Houston and one big one late in the fourth quarter snowballed into the Bulls' second straight loss.
Following a muffed punt by Houston, South Florida recovered at the Houston 27 with 6 minutes remaining. Andre avis was called for offensive pass interference on a catch that would have put the Bulls on the 1.
On the next play, Tyus Bowser sacked Mike White and forced a fumble that Jeremiah Farley recovered at midfield. Houston went on to score en route to a 35-23 victory.
"I thought I went up and made a good play," Davis said. "There was good protection, good throw. The referees obviously saw the play differently. They called me for pass interference, but I thought I went up and made a good play."
John O'Korn was 22 of 27 for 263 yards and three touchdowns for Houston.
Making his first career start, White was 26 of 41 for 311 yards and two touchdowns for the Bulls (2-6, 2-2 American Athletic Conference). Davis caught nine passes for 134 yards, and Mike McFarland had two touchdowns.
"It was tough because it was the first time all year we played that well," South Florida coach Willie Taggart said. "It was tough on our kids to be down like we were in the comeback and lose the game. It's tough. It's tougher on our kids because they fall hard. They practiced well, fell hard, got in that game, and we had a chance there at the end, but it didn't go our way."
South Florida, which averaged 5½ penalties per game for just under 58 yards a game, was penalized 19 times for 170 yards.
"That's not our football team," Taggart said. "We're not an undisciplined football team. That's the first time we were at that many penalties, so I won't say that our football team is undisciplined, but 19 penalties, you just can't have them."
Deontay Greenberry caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown, and Kenneth Farrow had rushing and receiving touchdowns for Houston (7-1, 4-0). The Cougars are only FBS team to score in every quarter this season.
After the late fuble, O'Korn completed an 11-yard pass to Aaron Johnson on third-and-7 to the South Florida 21, and Farrow capped the drive with a 5-yard scoring run with 1:40 remaining.
Trailing 28-16, South Florida trimmed Houston's lead to five on a 2-yard touchdown pass from White to McFarland on fourth-and-goal. The play capped a 14-play drive.
"Special kid, he does what he does," Davis said about White. "He's a great quarterback, a smart quarterback. ... I love having Mike as a quarterback, and he played a great game."
The Cougars wasted little time upping the lead to 28-13 on a 48-yard touchdown strike from O'Korn to Greenberry 33 seconds after the Bulls had cut the lead eight.
Houston took little time scoring, taking three plays to go 64 yards, capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass from O'Korn to Xavier Maxwell with 12:49 left in the first. On the first play of the drive, O'Korn hit Greenberry with a quick slant across the middle, and Greenberry took it 49 yards to the 15.
The Cougars extended their lead to 14-3 with a 3-yard shovel pass from O'Korn to Farrow with a minute to go in the opening quarter, capping a 14-play, 93-yard drive.
South Florida answered with an 8-yard touchdown pass from White to McFarland with 11:25 remaining in the first half. The touchdown was the Bulls' first on offense since Sept. 28 against Miami.
"It felt amazing, just to be able to know we are coming together as a team to score," McFarland said. "There was never really any pressure. We just know we have the plays, and we needed to execute them."
Houston responded with a 6-yard touchdown run from Ryan Jackson 1½ minutes later to open a 21-10 lead.
Marvin Kloss made field goals of 39, 50 and 49 yards for South Florida.