EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — For sheer angst and agony, no team can come close to Connecticut for handing USF the kind of difficult losses that Bulls fans bitterly remember years after the fact.
So, having lost to the Huskies two years in a row on last-minute field goals, the Bulls saved that drama Saturday but struggled badly on offense, missing a wide variety of opportunities in a 16-10 loss at Rentschler Field.
"This game is about two things: turnovers and penalties," said Skip Holtz, whose Bulls (4-2, 0-2 Big East) have dropped two straight after a promising 4-0 start that had them ranked No. 16. "The penalties absolutely hurt us tonight. … It's not just about talent or being able to stop them or moving the ball. It's learning about how to play smart and play winning football. We made too many mistakes today."
Quarterback B.J. Daniels, who had just one turnover in his first five games, had three Saturday, part of five trips inside the UConn 35-yard line that netted zero points. Needing a touchdown to win and faced with a fourth-and-7 play at the UConn 27 with 2:30 left, he had receiver Sterling Griffin open but threw low enough that Griffin went down to make the catch, left with a 3-yard gain.
"Turnovers will kill you," said Daniels, who threw two interceptions and fumbled an option pitch inside in the UConn 10. "Last couple of years we played UConn and lost the turnover battle, they won the game. Today's the same story. … It's on me, regardless. I'm the quarterback, it's my responsibility."
Running back Darrell Scott, who rushed for 58 yards, had perhaps the single biggest mistake, a fumble that UConn (3-4, 1-1) scooped up and returned 10 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. He, too, took blame for the loss.
"You can't put the ball on the ground. I'll put that on me. I basically lost the game for us," Scott said. "Being in the red zone and not being able to punch it in is frustrating. Frustrating, the whole entire game."
Other Bulls could certainly take some blame — on a day where UConn's Dave Teggart hit three field goals, USF's Maikon Bonani went 1-for-3, missing two into the wind — one short, one left. And though USF held Connecticut to 253 yards and without an offensive touchdown, coordinator Mark Snyder saw interceptions drop out of his players' hands too often for his taste.
"We had our hands on, had a chance at five or six turnovers, and we didn't make it happen," Snyder said. "There's an opportunity for us to contribute to a win, and we didn't get it done, period."
Connecticut gave up 948 passing yards in its previous two losses, but USF could not find the same success, with Daniels throwing for 164.
USF committed nine penalties for 89 yards, the first matching a season high and the latter the high in 19 games under Holtz. After running back Marcus Shaw returned a kickoff 79 yards to the UConn 8, USF lost a fumble two plays later on an option pitch.
"We keep doing stuff to shoot ourselves in the feet," guard Chaz Hine said. "If we get rid of the stupid mistakes, we'd be in such better position."
Scott's fumble was picked up by UConn's Byron Jones for a 10-yard touchdown and a 16-10 lead with 7:06 left in the third.
USF shut UConn out the rest of the way, and the Bulls' offense had the ball five more times, amassing 166 yards but zero points.
"We're where we are because of the choices we've made, the things we've done," Holtz said. "It's way too early to stick our heads in the sand. We're 4-2. There's a lot of people in the country that would trade places with us. I'm frustrated because I think we have a team that can be competitive in this league. But we have made some mistakes."