Out with a whimper: Bulls fall 27-3 to Pitt
TAMPA -- The boos really didn't come until the fourth quarter, when USF coach Skip Holtz, trailing Pittsburgh 27-0 and nearing the end of the worst season in the program's history, called for his field-goal unit on a fourth and goal at the Pittsburgh 8-yard line.
Maikon Bonani's 26-yard field goal was good, and helped the Bulls avoid the shutout in a humbling 27-3 loss, but the smallest crowd in USF's season made their frustration apparent at a familiar theme: too little, too late.
For the third game in a row, USF's offense struggled to move the ball -- let alone score -- without quarterback B.J. Daniels. The Bulls finished with 117 yards of total offense, resetting the all-time low in the program's 16 seasons.
USF's late-season collapse, outscored 94-22 in the final three losses, completes the Bulls' worst season -- a 3-9 record and a second straight 1-6 mark in Big East play to finish alone at the bottom of the conference standings. The question now is whether the downward spiral is bad enough to make USF's administration change its mind and fire Holtz, which would require a buyout of $2.5 million over the five years remaining on his contract.
"I'd certainly like to be," Holtz said, asked if he expects to be back. "There's been a lot of hard work that has gone into this, through players, coaches. There's a lot of underclassmen on that field ... a lot of young talent on the field. I understand the hardened position we've put a lot of people in, with the record that we have. ... I understand the nature of this business is to win games."
Holtz said he has not been told by athletic director Doug Woolard about his future, and he expects to meet with Woolard today to evaluate his season and his future, acknowledging changes to his own coaching staff would also be discussed. Woolard, in the room for Holtz's comments, was not available for comment.
"We've worked hard for the last three years to build this program. It's just really frustrating that we've been through the type of season we went through," Holtz said. "I'd certainly like to be (back). I would like to see these young players develop into what I know they can become. I would like to keep fighting."
There were more boos as Holtz ran off the field, head down as he entered the tunnel: "We're all frustated ... I understand their frustrations," he said. " You know what, I'm with you. I'm booing me too right now."
Injuries have hurt USF's offense down the stretch, but the game showed many of the flaws that have haunted USF all season. The defense continued an amazing inability to force turnovers -- the Bulls finish the season with two interceptions, both in the fourth quarter against Connecticut -- in the last six seasons, no Big East team has finished with fewer than seven over an entire year.
The Bulls compounded the lack of big plays with costly mistakes -- after Floyd's first interception, it looked as though the Bulls had stopped Pittsburgh on third and goal, but senior cornerback Kayvon Webster was flagged for illegal hands to the face, giving Pittsburgh a first down, and the Panthers scored on the next play.
Pitt's five scoring drives were all 50 yards or less, taking advantage of short fields created by USF turnovers and special-teams woes. The Bulls opted not to field two punts that set them up at their 2-yard line, not making things any easier for quarterback Matt Floyd, who had turnovers on USF's first three drives.
Floyd finished 12-for-25 for just 93 yards, with minus-9 rushing; he now enters the spring as USF's quarterback to beat for 2013, but has shown little in his 2012 audition, leading the Bulls to a single touchdown drive in his 11 quarters running the offense. He said for all his year's struggles, the returning players want Holtz back as their coach.
"Coach Holtz is an amazing coach and an even better guy," Floyd said. "Personally, I would love for him to be back. I don't want to play for anybody else. I feel that's the way this football team is too. Coach Holtz is our head coach, and that's what we want it to be."
Holtz's struggles have been well-documented -- he's lost 14 of his last 16 Big East games, finishing this year with the worst record in school history and missing a bowl for the second year in a row after the Bulls had gone to bowls in six straight seasons. The final four games are the lowest-scoring four-game stretch in school history -- USF has scored 35 points, and the next-lowest span is 50 points, in late 2008.
"A very frustrating night, a very frustrating year," Holtz said. "Disheartening for the seniors, disheartening because I also talked about how important it was for the underclassmen. ... It's frustrating because you certainly wanted to send the seniors out the right way because of the commitments they made to this program."