PHILADELPHIA — It has become a way-too-familiar story line for USF under Skip Holtz, playing out again and again in 10 losses among the past 11 Big East games.
Bulls are optimistic they'll win. Bulls make mistakes. Bulls dig big hole. Bulls make plays. Bulls have a chance to win. Bulls don't win.
So if the plot of USF's 37-28 loss at Temple seems, well, unoriginal, then even a frustrated Holtz can admit he has seen it before.
"It seems like we are in a Groundhog Day event almost … the last couple of weeks," Holtz said after the Bulls lost their fourth consecutive game, including three when they had a chance to win in the closing minutes. "It seems like we just keep making mistakes and get ourselves beat. As the head coach, it's my responsibility to evaluate our … scheme and what we're doing and who we're doing it with right now, to try to get out of this Groundhog Day rut we're in."
For those not familiar with Bill Murray's same-day-over-and-over 1993 movie, we'll fast-forward to Saturday's finish: Even after the defense gave up three second-half touchdowns and the offense fumbled twice in Temple territory, USF (2-4, 0-2 Big East) got a touchdown by quarterback B.J. Daniels with 5:19 left to cut Temple's lead to 30-28. Then a defensive stop gave the Bulls the ball with 3:49 left on their 32.
Facing fourth and 5 at their 47, the Bulls had an incomplete pass but were saved by a personal foul on Temple, putting the Bulls at the Owls 32 with 2:08 to play. USF's defensive concerns made Holtz want to run the clock down to a final kick, but on third and 1 at the 23-yard line, the Bulls opted to run wide right, and Demetris Murray — who had fumbled to set up a Temple score in the third quarter — was dropped for a 5-yard loss.
The plot gets better: Maikon Bonani's 45-yard field goal attempt with 1:19 left, for the lead, was blocked by defensive end Marcus Green and returned by Anthony Robey to the USF 35. On the next play, much like in a 23-13 loss to Rutgers, USF gave up a 35-yard touchdown run to Montel Harris, who rushed for 133 yards and two scores. And if anybody still somehow thought USF might score twice in the final 1:03, on the next play Daniels' pass was deflected and intercepted by Temple (2-2, 1-0) to seal the win.
"It's definitely gut-wrenching because it happens at the end of the game," Daniels said. "Like I said, it is disappointing. I've been around long enough to see some crazy things in the Big East. We're still going to keep our heads high, and we have still a long season in front of us."
Bulls fans might be thinking the same thing. USF went into Saturday hoping to stay in contention for its first Big East title, but that's highly unlikely after an 0-2 start. For the Bulls to be bowl eligible and improve on last year's 5-7 record, they would have to sweep home games against Syracuse, Connecticut and Pittsburgh and steal a road win at Louisville, Cincinnati or Miami.
So much of what led to Saturday's loss had a deja vu feel. The defense, now the only unit in Division I-A without an interception, didn't force a turnover for the fourth game in a row and let Temple score three touchdowns on its first four drives of the second half.
The offense didn't click until the second half as Daniels, limited by an ankle injury, didn't have a single run play called for him, taking away a key for USF'
Of those 10 Big East losses in 11 games, seven were games where the Bulls led or were tied in the fourth quarter, and another two, like Saturday, had the Bulls with the ball in opposing territory in the final three minutes with a chance to win.
USF's four-game skid ties the school record, done twice before.
"It's very frustrating to be this close and to come up on the losing end four times in a row," Holtz said. "We're all hurting a little bit. When I say all, I know the players, the coaches, the fan base, the alumni, the administration, to get through this four-game (streak) we're going through. I have yet to see anybody on the inside throw their arms up or put their head in the sand. We're going to keep plugging, we're going to keep working at it. It's the only way I know how to try to get it straight."