TAMPA — On a night USF's pass defense was sure to be tested, senior cornerback Jerome Murphy struggled in Thursday's 34-17 loss to No. 8 Cincinnati, giving up plays and making poor decisions that led to ill-timed penalties.
"I was disappointed by a couple of pretty bad penalties there," coach Jim Leavitt said. "Murph didn't play as good a game as I know he would have liked, but I didn't coach good enough, our offensive and defensive staff didn't coach good enough, and our players didn't play good enough. You lose, everybody takes part of this."
Murphy, who led the Bulls with eight tackles and four passes broken up, was beaten on Cincinnati's first touchdown, and he dropped two potential interceptions. Most disappointing might have been two penalties.
At the end of the first half, Murphy was flagged for a personal foul for a late hit on Cincinnati receiver Mardy Gilyard on an incomplete pass, putting the Bearcats at the USF 17. He later was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, setting up Cincinnati's last touchdown.
The first flag was bad enough that junior linebacker Sabbath Joseph, another defensive leader, grabbed Murphy by the face mask. But Murphy wasn't the only Bull drawing flags. USF had 12 penalties for 113 yards, including four that gave Cincinnati first downs.
USF's offense disappeared in the second half, with only four first downs after halftime and a total of 63 yards on the first seven drives.
USF's running backs were absent from the third quarter. Mo Plancher was dropped for a 2-yard loss to open the first drive, and Mike Ford lost 5 yards on first down on the next possession. On another first-down play, Lindsey Lamar lost 3 yards.
BIG PLAY: Cincinnati safety Aaron Webster's 83-yard interception return is the second-longest against the Bulls, and the longest since Cincinnati's Mike Mickens went 79 yards for a touchdown against USF in 2007. The record is held by New Haven's Adam Kasper, who went 85 yards in 1999.
THIRD DOWNS: The Bulls failed to convert on 11 straight third downs after converting three of their first four. Part of the problem was struggles on the first two downs. At one point, the Bulls needed at least 6 yards on eight straight third downs.
CROWDED: The game drew an announced crowd of 63,976, the third-largest to see the Bulls at home, behind two sellouts in 2007. The actual attendance, obtained from the Tampa Sports Authority, was 55,073.