Familiar mistakes came back to haunt Bulls in loss
TAMPA -- As was the case throughout a disappointing season, all three facets of USF's football team -- offense, defense and special teams -- had a hand in the Bulls' 30-27 loss to West Virginia on Thursday night.
USF's final record of 5-7 is the program's worst since a 4-7 mark in 2004, but coach Skip Holtz said the team's persistence though a painful run of seven losses in the final eight games makes it stand out among the ones he's had as a head coach.
"This is one of the better football teams I've ever had," Holtz said. "Wins were elusive for us in a lot of different ways this year, whether it be offense, some things defensively, some things on special teams."
The problems that cost USF a victory on Thursday were recurring issues throughout the second half of the season:
-- Costly turnovers. USF had a first down at the West Virginia 28 with 3:20 left and the Mountaineers out of time outs. Run the ball three times, and the Bulls are kicking a go-ahead field goal in the final 90 seconds or so, but B.J. Daniels fumbled, setting up West Virginia's final drive to win. Just a play earlier, Daniels had made a smart play, sliding to a stop in-bounds on a first-down run to keep the clock running.
"It's hard. You can't console anybody in that situation," offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said of Daniels, who threw for 226 yards on 21-for-44 passing. "We all feel terrible about it. ... It's just unfortunate."
-- Special-teams breakdowns: USF had a punt blocked, leading to West Virginia's first field goal, then gave up a 90-yard kickoff return TD to Tavon Austin in the third quarter after cutting the lead to three points. The Bulls opened the second half with a kickoff out of bounds, had a delay-of-game penalty on an extra point, and were flagged for illegal participation on the last play, making West Virginia's game-winning kick 5 yards easier. "Special teams was awful," Holtz said.
-- Foolish penalties. Instead of a long fourth down at midfield on its tying drive in the fourth quarter, West Virginia got a first down from a 15-yard penalty against defensive end Ryne Giddins for throwing a punch at a West Virginia lineman. "Absolutely huge," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder. "We talk about playing smart. That bit us in the butt again. That was a huge chunk of yardage."
-- Red-zone inefficiency: Twice in the second half, the Bulls got inside the West Virginia 20 and settled for field goals, including one drive in which the Bulls had six offensive plays inside the 7-yard line, but couldn't get in the end zone.
CLOSER THAN EVER: USF took four losses this season by three points or less -- that's as many such losses as the Bulls had totaled in their first six seasons in the Big East. The close losses are relatively new for Holtz as well -- he had one last year with USF (against Connecticut) but just three in his five years as head coach at East Carolina before coming to Tampa.
THIS AND THAT: West Virginia won despite going just 2-for-14 on third downs, though the Mountaineers helped offset that by going 3-for-3 on fourth-down gambles, including two in the fourth quarter. ... Based on announced attendance, USF averaged 44,549 fans in its seven home games this season, an increase of 9 percent from last season (40,849). ... Top rusher Darrell Scott finished with 92 yards, despite playing only one series in the second half before injuring his shoulder. Demetris Murray had 27 yards in the second half filling in for Scott.