TAMPA — USF's offense needed all the help it could get in Saturday's 17-10 loss to Pittsburgh, but time and time again, special teams mistakes cost the Bulls and put the team in bad field position.
"Special teams, as good as it's been for us, put us in a couple of holes," coach Skip Holtz said.
The troubles started before Pittsburgh's offense took the field, as Eric Schwartz sent the opening kickoff out of bounds to set the Panthers up on their 40-yard line. Receiving the Panthers' first kickoff wasn't much better, as a 68-yard return by Lindsey Lamar was negated by a block-in-the-back penalty that left USF starting on its 7-yard line.
"(It) was a tale of two cities — you started on their 30-yard line, or your own 10, with the block in the back," Holtz said.
That was great field position compared to two drives later, when freshman Terrence Mitchell opted to fair catch a Pittsburgh punt at his own 2, what Holtz called a "freshman mistake" that defied the rule of thumb not to field a punt inside the 10 and bank on a likely touchback instead.
K Maikon Bonani missed a 52-yard field goal, and P Justin Brockhaus-Kann struggled — USF escaped a bad spot when Pittsburgh fumbled the ball away at the USF 10 after blocking a punt in the third quarter. His other punts were hardly gems — none went longer than 37 yards, and his average of 26.8 was made worse by poor coverage, which resulted in a net average of 17.7 yards, about half of Pittsburgh's 34.5 yards.
LUCKY BREAKS: Brockhaus-Kann's blocked punt proved harmless when Bulls FB Richard Kelly forced a fumble from Pittsburgh's Nate Nix that was recovered by DE Patrick Hampton. Two more USF fumbles wound up in Bulls' hands, with QB B.J. Daniels recovering his own fumble and WR Evan Landi recovering a Mo Plancher fumble.
FLAGS FLYING: USF picked up seven first downs on Pittsburgh penalties, including five on pass-interference calls, four of which were on CB Antwuan Reed. Bulls WR Dontavia Bogan, who had a 37-yard catch in the first quarter, was the intended receiver on four of those plays, so the 15-yard concession was effective in limiting the big-play threat. The seven first downs were considerably more than the three the Bulls were able to gain on completions. Without a 45-yard reverse by Mitchell, the Bulls would've gained more second-half yards from Pitt penalties (90) than they did with their second-half offense (78).
THIS AND THAT: DE Julius Forte, a redshirt freshman from Boca Ciega, had his first career sack. … Junior S Jerrell Young, a Gibbs graduate, had a team-best eight tackles. … USF had tackles for a loss on four consecutive plays in the first quarter, then only did so on three other plays the rest of the game. … USF's announced attendance of 43,844 was a season high but nearly 7,000 less than the last time Pittsburgh came to Tampa in 2008.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow his coverage at bulls.tampabay.com.