So close, so far away: Bulls fall 22-15
First look at Sunday's game story. A quick update: Mike Ford was scheduled to return home with the Bulls on their flight to Tampa late Saturday night.
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – One yard away.
As close as that seems, the Bulls are now miles from where they were two weeks ago, and so many things once within a reasonable grasp are now all but out of reach.
For all the big runs USF gave up to Connecticut on Saturday, for as bad as the Bulls played in the first half, they had three shots from the 1-yard line for a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.
They missed on all three, typifying a nightmarish day anytime they were near the end zone, and the Huskies got a 22-15 victory, handing a reeling USF squad its second straight loss.
“We didn’t score,” coach Jim Leavitt said, summing up his offense neatly. “We wasted too many opportunities. … We’re making too many mistakes. … We couldn’t have played worse in the first half. That was probably as bad as you could play.”
Two weeks ago, the Bulls were ranked No. 2 in the country, discussed as a possibility for the national championship game. Now they’re realistically out of contention for even a conference title, leaving their fans to ponder the relative merits of non-BCS bowls.
“It really, really hurts,” defensive tackle Richard Clebert said. “We know we’re the better team, but we’re not playing like it. We got so upset about people talking bad about us on ESPN, about how we’re overrated. We’re playing as if we are overrated. It’s up to us and the coaches to bounce back.”
USF had a 1-yard touchdown run brought back by penalty, then had a sure touchdown catch dropped by that penalized player, tight end Cedric Hill.
The Bulls got the ball back with 5:11 to play and again drove to the 1, but couldn’t get closer. With Mike Ford out with a rib injury, reserve Moise Plancher, with one carry this season, was stopped for no gain. USF ran a naked bootleg for Grothe, but UConn saw it coming and dropped him for an 11-yard loss. Grothe’s final pass sailed high and incomplete. Game over.
“We ran a boot. We figured it’d be there, but they played it right,” Grothe said. “We struggled. We’ve got to fix some stuff. We can bounce back.”
Connecticut (7-1, 3-0) should today parlay its first-ever win against a ranked opponent into its first-ever poll rankings; if the Bulls stay ranked, it will be largely because of other ranked teams losing.
The Huskies got out to a 16-0 halftime lead, getting a huge game from running back Andre Dixon (167 yards) and an interception returned by Scott Lutrus for a touchdown.
Want lost points for USF? How about two missed field goals by Delbert Alvarado? And when Jerome Murphy blocked a Huskies punt, freshman Dylan Douglas couldn’t fall on the loose ball in the end zone, allowing Connecticut to fall on it for a safety, a loss of five points.
The offense was barely better near the end zone, getting inside the Connecticut 5-yard line five times, but getting only 10 points to show for it. A 54-yard run by Jamar Taylor was spoiled by a missed field goal; Grothe, who rushed for a career-best 146 yards, threw an interception in the end zone to end another drive.
It was Grothe, however, that rallied USF, breaking loose on a career-long 53-yard run, then scoring from 10 yards on the next play to cut the lead to 16-9.
The defense woke up, holding the Huskies to 102 yards in the second half, but the Bulls dug too deep a hole to escape from.
“It was a half too late,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “First half, we didn’t come close to stopping them. … I don’t know how you explain it, not wrapping up, not doing all the things it takes to be a great tackler. We didn’t do it last week, second week in a row. It’s a major problem … We’ve just gone backwards.”
“It’s hard to understand why you could not go out there and turn it on, having the opportunities we had to be 7-1 and back in the conference race. For a whole entire half and not get the job done.”
The Bulls return home but face another stout defense in Cincinnati, hoping to avoid losing three Big East games in a row for the first time.
“It’s going to really show our character,” Clebert said. “It can either go downhill from here, or we could go 10-2. 10-2 would be a great season.”