Holtz: Focus on 'fundamental' football on defense
Speaking for the first time since immediately after Thursday night's 44-17 loss at Pittsburgh, USF coach Skip Holtz said his team wants to be back on the football field as soon as possible but will make the most of its bye week to correct problems, especially on defense.
"We would have played Saturday if they would have let us, after playing the way we did on Thursday," Holtz said. "Pitt did a lot of good things, but we made a lot of mistakes. Those are the things that really bothers me. Ray Graham's a great running back and he's going to make you miss. Those are the kind of mistakes I can deal with. But not containing, not doing some of the things we did, that's what we have to go back to the drawing board with. For the long term, if we handle this the right way and we can grow from it, we have the pain and the loss in our bag for the next 16 days ... I'm not going to say it was a good thing, but we can gain from it."
Holtz said he was surprised by the lack of pressure from his defensive line, but said that looked to be more a case of players not being in the right position than being physically dominated by Pittsburgh's offensive line.
"I didn't think they could come out and run the ball the way they did," Holtz said. "(QB Tino) Sunseri started running the ball ... they made (Sunseri) much more of a runner, and it kind of got our linebackers a little bit discombobulated. For the first time this year, we were behind. ... I felt like we pressed. I don't think we played awful up front, but we'd have two people in a gap. It was almost like recess ball -- everybody go tackle 'em. We weren't holding our gaps, and a great back like Graham is going to find that opening and exploit it. ... It was more assignment, discipline-gap-integrity than it was just physically getting pushed around up front."
Holtz said the Bulls "did an awful lot of good things" on offense, pointing to running backs Darrell Scott and Demetris Murray both averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He said was "really pleased" with quarterback B.J. Daniels, who played "pretty well" in completing 18 of 36 passes for 223 yards, with no touchdown passes but no interceptions as well.
"The game got away from us a little bit in the second half," Holtz said. "It was a 20-17 ballgame at halftime, felt like we were in the game. Hard to put my finger on it right now exactly what happened in the second half, other than we couldn't stop them and we had a hard time getting the ball into the end zone."
Holtz said his players will practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week, focusing on the team and not any opponent, then after two days off, the Bulls will start normal game-week preparations Sunday for next week's game at Connecticut.
Holtz said he doesn't see significant changes coming on defense, either in personnel or in scheme, but said the focus will be on better executing the plan that is in place.
"I don't think it was a personnel deal, where 'Wow, we're not good enough,'" Holtz said, "as much as it was fundamental football. ... When things go wrong, we have to be able to get in base defense and play base, fundamental defense, where the line stays square, you hold a gap, you fill your hole, those type of things."
Holtz said receiver A.J. Love, who suffered a sprained ankle in Thursday's loss, will be held out of practice this week but "should be" back for the Connecticut game, though it's hard to tell this early with an ankle injury.