TAMPA — There were so many special teams mistakes that collaborated to scuttle the Bulls' hopes of a sixth win — a muffed punt return leading to Louisville's first points, a 52-yard kickoff return leading to the Cardinals' first touchdown — but the signature moment Friday was a penalty that cost the Bulls 39 yards in field position in the fourth quarter of a close game.
"We're making some foolish blunders that you can't make and win," coach Skip Holtz said. "Our special teams really was poor, and that's a reflection on us as coaches."
Justin Brockhaus-Kann continued to struggle, with punts of 26 and 17 yards on his last two attempts. Holtz finally made a change, bringing in K Maikon Bonani for a rugby-style punt from the USF 16. The line-drive kick kept bouncing clear to the Louisville 12, and its 72 yards would have matched the school record for longest punt … had it not been negated by penalty.
Senior long snapper Mike Walsh was flagged for a personal foul, forcing a rekick. With the novelty spoiled, Holtz went back to Brockhaus-Kann, whose punt was returned to the USF 49, a costly loss in the field-position battle.
"We had an 80-yard kick by Bonani, who did an unbelievable job, and we had a guy hit another guy in the back just running down the field, just a foolish mistake that takes away about 40 yards of field position in a football game," Holtz said.
MISSING: QB B.J. Daniels wasn't the only key contributor out with an injury — starting CB Kayvon Webster (concussion) missed the game, pressing junior George Baker into a starting role after totaling 10 tackles in the first 10 games. Most costly was leaving Louisville WR DeVante Parker uncovered in the end zone on the Cards' go-ahead touchdown.
"You've got a young corner in there. … George Baker played more reps than he has all year," Holtz said. "I'm certainly not throwing him under the bus, but a young, inexperienced guy, and it's three-deep (zone) and he jumps up on the out cut and leaves the corner route right open behind him. They weren't hard reads, I promise you. We made it easy, made it easier than it should be. … We weren't very good in the secondary."
CHANGE OF PLAN: USF's first touchdown came as a surprise, with the Bulls going for it on fourth and 3 and QB Bobby Eveld hitting WR Lindsey Lamar for a 35-yard touchdown. But initially, Holtz opted to punt, showing a lack of confidence in both his offense and his kicker, However, Louisville was so surprised, it didn't have a punt unit on the field and had to call timeout. Given a moment to rethink, Holtz sent his offense out and went for it on fourth down.
THIS AND THAT: Walsh's personal foul was one of just three penalties for 18 yards for USF, matching the season low in a game for penalties and resetting the low for yards by 22. … Eveld was 20-for-35 for 210 yards, resetting his career high. He had 195 last year in his only other start, a loss against UConn. … With short kicks that left little room for returns, the Bulls had allowed minus-2 yards on punt returns all season, putting them on pace for the NCAA season record. Louisville had 5 yards on one return. The Bulls are now 1 yard behind the mark of 2, set by Miami in 1989. … Demetris Murray's touchdown pass made him the first non-QB to throw a TD for USF since Amarri Jackson in 2005, also against Louisville.