USF passing woes: Blame it on the weather?
Let me preface this by saying that in the past, after a loss like Saturday's, it wasn't unusual for key players (even coordinators) to decline media requests and not answer questions. So it's worth mentioning that everyone requested, including QB B.J. Daniels and RB Darrell Scott, did their part and showed up for postgame interviews. There's character in accepting the spotlight when things haven't gone well.
Having said that, when it came to explaining USF's inability to take advantage of a bad UConn pass defense, there was a wild variety of weather-related explanations that didn't always line up. Here's our follow story for Monday's paper:
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Asked why USF's offense wasn't able to have the same passing success against a Connecticut defense that had given up 948 passing yards in its previous two games, Bulls coaches and quarterback B.J. Daniels cited a number of weather issues, from humidity to cold to wind at Rentschler Field.
"You just don't have the humidity up here in the air. B.J. was having a hard time holding onto the ball, complaining about it being really slick," coach Skip Holtz said after his team passed for only 164 yards. "One ball went out of the back. You could see he kept coming over to the sidelines, spraying his hands with water to try to keep them moist so he could grip the ball. He just missed a couple of balls."
Daniels attempted just eight passes in the first half -- USF had only 23 offensive plays in trailing 6-3 at halftime. Holtz said the lack of passing wasn't dictated by UConn's defense.
"I believe we were 4-of-8, but I can't remember one in the first half that it was covered. We needed to execute," Holtz said. "The second quarter, he even came out with a glove on. It was like 'What?' He said 'Coach, I can't grip it. It's just really slick.' Second half, we put handwarmers in his deal to keep his hands real moist and sweaty so he could grip the ball."
Daniels, who had three turnovers after having just one in the first five games, said his problems were more about the cold, with temperatures dropping from 65 degrees at the 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
"It's cold. The ball's a little bit harder, your hands a little rougher," he said. "Just trying to keep my hands warm in the second half, and it definitely helped."
Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch, meanwhile, cited strong winds that were measured at 16 miles per hour at kickoff.
"The wind was part of the deal, the weather conditions," Fitch said. "Early in the game, we had to figure out what we could or couldn't throw. We hit some third downs, but we didn't make the plays we needed to in the passing game. ... We didn't make the plays obviously to keep drives alive."
Holtz said Western Michigan and West Virginia were able to pile up passing yards because of plays made by their receivers, something he didn't see Saturday, though the Bulls didn't attempt to pass the ball deep more than two or three times, relying primarily on short screen passes.
"When you look at it, there were a lot of great circus catches (in those two games) where guys went up and beat man coverage," Holtz said. "We weren't able to do that tonight. ... There were some guys open. We just couldn't execute it."
TOO LOW: Needing a touchdown to win, USF got a 23-yard pass to receiver Victor Marc, then a 32-yard scramble by Daniels to reach the UConn 30-yard line with about four minutes remaining. But from there, USF tried two short runs by Demetris Murray, then on third and 5, Daniels was dropped for a 2-yard loss on an option run.
Going for it on fourth-and-7, Fitch called for a "man-beater," designed to beat man coverage, and the play had top receiver Sterling Griffin open on a drag pattern across the middle. But Daniels, facing pressure, threw the pass low and Griffin had to go down to get it, gaining only 3 yards to end the Bulls' final drive.
"It was (low)," Griffin said. "I could have probably stayed on my feet and caught the ball and made something happened. I didn't. We went four and out. I probably blame myself for that."
VANISHING: For the second week in a row, running back Darrell Scott was featured on the opening drive, but had more yards there than he did the rest of the game.
Scott had eight carries for 40 yards on the first drive as USF attacked Connecticut's strength, its run defense. Reaching the UConn 5-yard line, Scott was stopped on two short runs and USF settled for a Maikon Bonani field goal.
From there, Scott wasn't used much, with just five carries for 18 yards the next six possessions. Scott's costly fumble in the third quarter, returned 10 yards for the winning touchdown, sent him to the bench for the final five series, with Murray rushing 10 times for 40 yards.
"If you put the ball on the ground, you don't get back in," Scott said. "You've got to live and learn."
THIS AND THAT: USF has taken pride in its defensive depth, but only 12 players were credited with tackles on defense Saturday. ... The Bulls' punt-return unit struggled, with just 17 yards on four returns and two holding penalties, one on a fair catch. ... With Lyle McCombs rushing for 130 yards on 32 carries, USF has allowed a 100-yard rusher in all three of its games this season against BCS-level competition. ... Connecticut and Pittsburgh both beat USF to end their own two-game losing streaks.