Bulls lose two 4th-quarter leads, fall 37-34 to Cincy
TAMPA -- However disappointing the Pittsburgh loss was, however frustrating the Connecticut loss was, Saturday's 37-34 loss to Cincinnati may have been worse for USF, which lost a lead in the final seconds and dropped to 0-3 in conference play for the first time.
USF (4-3, 0-3 in Big East) had already blown a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, but with 3:37 left, the Bulls marched 83 yards, rallying to retake the lead when B.J. Daniels hit freshman Andre Davis for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 1:27 to play. Staked with closing out a win in front of a Raymond James Stadium crowd announced at 44,248, USF's defense let Cincinnati do its own marching, going 70 yards in 75 seconds and winning on a 2-yard Zach Collaros touchdown run with 12 seconds left.
"I'm at a loss. ... It's like a burning feeling in your heart. It's empty," defensive end Ryne Giddins said after watching the defense give up 20 points in the fourth quarter.
It was the largest fourth-quarter lead the Bulls have blown in a loss, in a game that had its share of missed opportunities -- two touchdowns were wiped out by holding penalties on the same drive, which ended with a field goal. Another field goal -- after failing to punch it in from the 3 -- was botched when the snap went through the holder's hands, and USF allowed about 20 seconds to run off the clock just before halftime, surrendering a shot at the end zone to be sure of a tying field goal.
"My heart breaks for our players," coach Skip Holtz said. "The guys competed their tails off. I thought they put it all out on the field. ... It's disheartening, because I look at how hard they played and how hard they worked."
The loss spoiled a strong game by Daniels, who reset his career high in passing yards for the third time this season. He finished with a school-record 409 yards and three touchdowns, though he also had an early fumble and an interception in Cincinnati territory in the fourth quarter.
"It was an up-and-down gut-wrenching feeling," Daniels said of seeing Cincinnati's final drive. "I definitely didn't feel good. It's just a tough situation."
USF committed 10 penalties for 109 yards, resetting the high for yards under Skip Holtz for the second week in a row, and Holtz declined to criticize his players on those flags until he's seen video of the game, saying the Big East acknowledged making mistakes among last week's nine penalties against the Bulls. "I don't know what a penalty is anymore," Holtz said.
USF's defense caught breaks early when Cincinnati made it inside the Bulls' 20 twice without scoring points, thanks to an end-zone interception by cornerback JaQuez Jenkins and a missed field goal. Tied at the half, the two teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, then USF scored 10 points, with Victor Marc's 40-yard punt return setting up a Daniels touchdown to tight end Andreas Shields for a 27-17 lead.
Daniels stepped up on the 83-yard touchdown drive to take the lead, but USF's defense couldn't close the door. Collaros (389 yards, 3 TDs) completed a 33-yard pass to the USF 22, then a 21-yard pass to the 6, and after a pass interference flag in the end zone with 20 seconds left, he went up the middle for the winning score.
USF matches the longest losing streak in the program's 15-year history, and now the Bulls have another bye week before they return to play Nov. 5 at Rutgers. With a 4-3 record, the Bulls need two wins in their final five games just to be bowl-eligible for the seventh year in a row."It's hard to say we're ready to win when we're 0-3 in the last three weeks. We've had our opportunities. There are a lot of growing pains going on right now," Holtz said. "As I told the team, when we are tired enough of losing and we are willing to correct some of the mistakes we are making, we have a great opportunity to win."