USF found its running game Thursday night, but despite rushing for 182 yards, the Bulls couldn't run when it mattered - near the goal line.
USF trailed 24-10 late in the fourth quarter. Twice the Bulls relied on the running backs to get the ball inside the Cincinnati 10. Twice the Bulls walked away with nothing.
"When you get the ball inside the 10 two times and not to convert two times, there's no excuse for that," coach Jim Leavitt said. "We just didn't look very good the first, or second, time we were down there."
USF drove the ball to the Cincinnati 2, but a false-start penalty set the Bulls back to the 7. After two running plays by senior Ben Williams netted just 2 yards, junior quarterback Matt Grothe threw two incomplete passes.
"We've got to cut away the penalties," Williams said. "We had a great opportunity, with the ball in the red zone, and it took away a good opportunity to score."
Grothe said the Bearcats just had USF's number.
"We couldn't do anything," he said. "They did a good job of stopping us, and we did a good job of stopping ourselves."
The Bulls were successful on the ground without two of their main running backs. Sophomores Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor did not make the trip because of ankle injuries, leaving the Bulls' normally heavy rotation lighter than usual.
Williams led USF with 79 yards rushing, and Grothe added 54.
The offensive line got a boost with the return of senior Marc Dile, normally the starting right tackle, and sophomore guard Zach Hermann, who has been out for seven weeks with a broken foot, saw action off the bench as well.
Senior center Jake Griffin said rotating players into the offensive line who hadn't played much recently didn't throw the team out of synch.
"It's not that difficult to roll in guys, because we do it during the week during practice," he said. "We have continuity during practice."
Running backs coach Carl Franks said he thought USF could run the ball into the end zone late in the game.
"We've got to do a better job as coaches to get them some good plays, and they've got to execute them," he said. "It works both ways."
Griffin said USF was simply outplayed near the goal line.
"I'm not sure what happened," he said. "I can't really put it into words."