Holtz on four-game skid: 'That falls on me'
TAMPA -- USF coach Skip Holtz says he understands the frustration among Bulls fans during the team's four-game losing streak, but said nobody is as disappointed as his staff and players, and particularly himself.
"I'm certainly not trying to pass any blame or trying to wash away that responsibility," Holtz said one day after a 37-28 loss at Temple. "That falls on us. That falls on me as the head football coach. I can certainly understand people's disappointment in the program and where we are right now at 2-4, because there were very high expectations for the program as we came into the season. The team is just as disappointed as everybody on the outside."
Holtz said the team's losses -- 11 of 14 games going back to a 4-0 start last season -- show the program has taken a step back, though his optimism comes from the way the Bulls have consistently played close with opportunities to win the games they've lost.
"From a win-loss standpoint, it would be hard to argue that we haven't. It would be very hard to argue that," Holtz said. "I look at where we are from a competitive standpoint. In two and a half years, there's been one half of football where we haven't been competitive, and that's the second half of the Pitt game (in 2011). I understand why people would be upset, losing 10 of 11 Big East games. We're not trying to do that. Everybody's embarrassed about where we are right now, nobody more than myself."
The Bulls have struggled with turnovers on both sides of the ball, with only two schools out of 120 in I-A football having a worse turnover margin than USF, giving up 1.67 more turnovers per game than they force. Holtz said his staff will use the bye week before next week's game at Louisville as a chance to step back and re-evaluate where the team's strengths are.
"I keep using the term 'Where do we put our saddle?' Do we put our saddle on a fifth-year quarterback who's playing extremely well right now, who's surrounded by a lot of sophomore and freshman wide receivers. One can be good, but if they're not all good, it doesn't matter. Do you put your saddle on a spread offense with a senior quarterback? Do you put your saddle on an offensive line and more gear yourself toward a run game? We've done a little bit of all of it to this point in time."
USF is the only school in I-A football without an interception, and secondary coach Rick Smith had set a goal of 25 interceptions for the season, so Holtz said something must change -- more pressure at the line of scrimmage, more aggressive coverage -- to change that.
"It amazes me as well, where we are," Holtz said. "We are not playing very well in the secondary. We're not challenging balls. It's not like we're not catching them. We're not getting our hands on a lot of them. ... We've had our hands on a handful, but it's not very many. It's one of the things we've got to look at hard. I've never been involved with a football team that's been through six games and not had an interception. ... Right now, I think we're being way too passive."
Asked specifically if he feels his job is in jeopardy -- Holtz received a contract extension from athletic director Doug Woolard this summer through the 2017 season, and because of that deal, USF would have to pay $2.5-million to fire him -- Holtz said "I don't coach that way," saying no administrators have said anything to him along those lines.
Holtz has been through an 0-11 season on his father Lou's staff at South Carolina: "I've been through hard times, been through difficult times. There's no doubt this is a difficult time. I look at (that) we're close, but we haven't gotten it done."
Asked if his changes during the bye week could involve any reassignment of coaching duties among his assistants, Holtz didn't rule that out. "Those are all things we have to evaluate," he said.
HELMET TOSS: Asked about the play in which QB B.J. Daniels had his helmet ripped off with enough force to fly across the field, Holtz didn't question the absence of a facemask penalty but said he was glad there wasn't any significant injury to his senior. "I think it's scary. It's really scary to have your helmet ripped off with that speed and velocity," Holtz said. "Thank goodness it came off. If it didn't, he could have been severely injured. I thought that's what all these new rules were in place to do, to protect the defenseless player."
INJURIES: Holtz said the two injuries to monitor from Saturday's game are Daniels' lingering ankle injury, which kept him from any scripted running plays, and a bruised shoulder for safety JaQuez Jenkins. He's optimistic he could get three injured defensive players -- linebackers Tashon Whitehurst and Reshard Cliett and safety Jon Lejiste -- back for Louisville, but said it's too early to tell. Of the three, Cliett is the least likely to be able to return, Whitehurst most likely.