Aftermath: What went wrong, Part III
Where do you start? I'll start with links, to our game story, to a column from John Romano, our notebook -- including George Selvie setting the Big East tackle-for-loss record and the actual attendance of 45,172, and a sidebar from correspondent Mike Camunas on that last-minute drive. There's a great photo gallery by photogs Ted McLaren and Daniel Wallace, running the full spectrum from Mike Jenkins' helmet-launching hit to scenes of dejection after the final play.
Now, some quick observations. Haven't watched the game on TiVo yet and was up late writing our national women's basketball preview, but here's some leftover thoughts from last night ...
-- I can hear Bulls fans saying, at least there's Miami. USF no longer has the best record in the state, no longer has the biggest upset by a state team. And in national terms, the Bulls are less relevant than any of the Big Three except Miami. Florida and Florida State are still in competition for trips to their league championship game; Central Florida has that going for it as well. Hard to believe this team is only three weeks removed from BCS talk and national first-place votes.
-- There's no need for excuses when a team has eight turnovers in a game, but you probably could start with the injuries at receiver. With Amarri Jackson still on a crutch and Taurus Johnson watching, the Bulls lost freshman Dontavia Bogan for much of the game with a hip pointer. Another freshman, A.J. Love, lost a fumble on his first career catch, and the Bulls had a possession late in the first half that saw four plays and three of them were passed directed at Courtney Denson, who had five catches entering the game. Carlton Mitchell is emerging as a star, with another 100-yard game; I was surprised how little I heard Jessie Hester's name called until the final two drives.
-- Time to beat dead horses. USF's first five drives to the Cincy 25 and deeper resulted in three turnovers and two field goals. This is a team that does not finish drives with any punctuation, and that goes back to not having a conventional running game. The defense was huge in the second half, pitching a shutout and holding Cincy to 106 yards, but they gave up too many big plays in the first half Matt Grothe accounted for 95 percent -- all but 24 yards -- of USF's 481 yards of total offense. You add that burden to the frustration of having five turnovers and it's astounding Grothe can execute a last-minute drive that well. Again, that last drive is like a centerfielder who makes an amazing, diving catch, but only because he made a bad jump when he first read the ball and had to make up for it.
-- As thrilling as the final drive was, it was a hurry because of a lack of urgency on the previous touchdown drive. I understand Cincy was giving USF the middle of the field, but it just took the Bulls too long. Grothe hit Carlton Mitchell for a huge fourth-and-11 conversion -- that play didn't even make my game story -- to put USF on the 35-yard line with four minutes to play. I don't think USF stopped the clock by going out of bounds on the next five plays -- Ben Williams needs to understand finding the sideline is more important than finding two extra yards on a drive like that. Short gains of 8, 5, 5 and 5 7 yards, then Grothe taking a 2-yard loss, put the clock at 2:04 left before the touchdown throw. If the Bulls can cut 30 seconds off that 2-minute span, they have twice as much for that last drive. Again, great play just to make it as close as it was, but I didn't see the urgency of a team down 11 with four minutes to play.
-- Regular e-mailer Jim in St. Pete Beach was watching the FSU game late last night when ABC's Brent Musberger, rattling off all the No. 2-ranked teams to fall to upsets, needed an extra second to remember "Florida Southern." I heard it too, and I'm sure that's salt in the wound for Bulls fans, who still face frustrating name-recognition issues from people who should know USF by now ...
-- Where do the Bulls go from here? Their season will be somewhere between 9-3 and 6-6, and if USF loses two of its last three, the Bulls might not match up with a Big East bowl. Consider this: if the league doesn't get an at-large BCS berth, you have West Virginia or Connecticut in El Paso; Cincinnati will be ahead of the Bulls, as will Rutgers if they can win two of their last three. If Louisville can beat USF and then knock off West Virginia or Rutgers, they'd be 7-5 or better. Just like we talked about improbably good scenarios three weeks ago, I want to address the possibility that USF is 7-5 and taking an at-large berth somewhere else. I had to look up the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl to find out it's in Fort Worth. Not saying it's likely, just saying it's a possibility.
-- Thoughts? Comments? I'll wait until I see a replay to address the Cincinnati player who kicked the flag upfield a few yards after a holding penalty. ...