PITTSBURGH — So much of USF's struggles in Thursday's 44-17 loss to Pittsburgh can be traced to poor play on third downs, on both sides of the ball.
Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder was confounded by the way Pittsburgh's offense consistently extended drives with third-down success, converting 10 of its first 13 opportunities, plus another first down on a third-down personal foul by USF.
"We couldn't get off the field on third down," Snyder said, crediting Pitt QB Tino Sunseri. "He kept making play after play after play."
Sunseri was sharp on third downs, going 7 for 10 passing for 96 yards, and Pittsburgh was able to convert third-and-long situations, with five conversions when needing at least 7 yards.
USF's offense kept pace in the first half, going 6-for-9 on third down and trailing 20-17 at the break. But in the second half, despite setting up third-and-short plays, the Bulls went 0-for-6 on third down, with QB B.J. Daniels going 1-for-6 for 3 yards on those plays.
"We did a decent job in the first half, but second half, we didn't bring anything to the table to help our defense," offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said.
USF's decision to implement more of a hurry-up offense helped pile up 425 yards, but it may have been taxing to the Bulls' defense. None of USF's first seven drives of the second half lasted more than 2 minutes, 13 seconds; by comparison, Pittsburgh's first seven were at least seven plays and took at least two minutes, save two plays in the final 26 seconds of the half.
BRIGHT SPOTS: WR Sterling Griffin continued his strong play with a 42-yard catch on the way to 109 total yards, the first 100-yard game by a USF receiver in 18 games under Skip Holtz. … Freshman DT Elkino Watson finished with eight tackles, including his first sack and two tackles for loss, giving him a team-best 6 1/2 tackles for loss in five games. … RBs Darrell Scott (12 carries for 76 yards) and Demetris Murray (10 for 67) ran well, each averaging better than 6.0 yards per carry, though Scott did lose a fumble in the fourth quarter.
THIS AND THAT: The 44-17 loss represented the most points allowed by the Bulls under Holtz and the most lopsided loss in his two seasons. The last time a Holtz-coached team lost by that many points was 2007, when West Virginia beat East Carolina 48-7. … In USF's first three seasons in the Big East, the Bulls had no conference losses by 25 points or more; since 2008, they have had four, with two each against Pittsburgh and Rutgers. … Senior WR A.J. Love left the game with a sprained ankle and did not return. Holtz said he did not know a timetable for Love's return.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow his coverage at bulls.tampabay.com and on Twitter at @gregauman.