Despite stumble, USF still can see title

Special to USFNation.com
Posted Oct 5, 2011


Even though USF lost their conference opener, the chance to capture a BIG EAST title is still within their grasp. History is on their side considering that only twice in the last eight years has the BE winner been undefeated. The Bulls have a bye week to make whatever repairs are necessary and fix the defense before heading back on the road to Cincinnati.

South Florida may have stumbled big time in its Big East opener, but the Bulls still have their goal of winning the conference title in their sights.

Twice in the last four years, the conference champion has lost two league games, and only twice in the last eight has the winner been undefeated.

"This is one game," Coach Skip Holtz said after the 44-17 beat down at Pittsburgh. "I hate that you lose a conference game, but sitting here 4-1 going into the open date, we have to keep our heads up and get back to work, look at film, find out what the problems are and get them corrected as a staff."

Holtz liked the way his team responded after the defeat.

"I still like this football team," he said. "There was no attitude, no grumbling or pointing of fingers.

"We just couldn't get off the field against a good football team. It was an old fashioned tail-whipping, that's what it was, and especially from their offensive standpoint."

At least the Bulls will have some time to make whatever repairs are necessary. They have the first of two bye weeks on the schedule coming up before heading back on the road to Cincinnati.

"It's at a good time right now," senior safety Jerrell Young said. "We have 18 days to sit back, relax, and get ourselves together."

It actually will be a 16-day gap between games for the Bulls, but the point is still the same. They have time to get things back together.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The 27-point loss at Pitt is the third worst loss for USF against a Big East foe. The two worst defeats for the Bulls were a 49-16 defeat to Rutgers in 2008 and a 31-0 loss to the Scarlet Knights in 2009. Both of those games were at home for USF. The Bulls also lost by points at Pitt 41-14 in 2009.

--Thanks to the three-game stretch against overmatched opponents (Ball State, Florida A&M, and Texas-El Paso), the Bulls remain the most productive team in the Big East. They are averaging 503.6 yards a game in total offense, which ranks 13th in the country.

--The loss at Pittsburgh dropped the Bulls from both major polls. They had moved up to No. 16 in the AP poll (media) and were No. 14 in the USA Today rankings (coaches) after their 4-1 start.

BYE WEEK MISSION: Fix the defense. The problems trying to stop Pitt's running game may have been more the result of poor tackling than scheme, but either way it is something the Bulls definitely need to fix if they want to compete for a Big East title. After facing the league's leading rusher in Pitt's Ray Graham, the Bulls next have to deal with the No. 2 guy, Connecticut's Lyle McCombs, in their next outing, and No. 3 Isaiah Pead of Cincinnati follows that.

LOOKING AHEAD: USF didn’t get any favors with four of its first five Big East games on the road, but two open dates should help ease things. The Bulls will come off their bye week with a trip to Connecticut for an Oct. 15 date with the defending league champions. The Bulls' only home game of the month is Oct. 22 against Cincinnati, and then there is another open date. They begin November with trips to Rutgers and Syracuse before finishing with three consecutive home outings, one of them a non-conference affair with Miami.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We definitely don't want to go into a bye week with a loss, but a bye week is always helpful whether you lose or win. Our guys will have a chance to get healthy. It also gives us a chance to tighten up some things that we messed up on in those first five games." -- Junior LB Sam Barrington, looking ahead after USF's loss at Pitt.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The key for USF's offense has been an improvement in the running game and a reduction in turnovers. The Bulls are rushing for 223.2 yards a game, up from 144.8 last year, with RB Darrell Scott giving them a power runner inside who also has speed. The Bulls have lost three fumbles in five games and have thrown four interceptions, but starting QB B.J. Daniels has only one pick. Backup Bobby Eveld has three, thrown at times when the game was not at risk.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: USF had been playing solid defense until the debacle at Pitt, when the Bulls couldn't get a handle on Panthers RB Ray Graham. For the season, the Bulls have held foes to just 127 yards on the ground and have come up with 14 turnovers equally divided between interceptions and fumble recoveries. The plus-seven turnover margin ranks third in the Big East.

ROSTER REPORT

--Senior WR A.J. Love injured his ankle at Pittsburgh but should benefit from the bye week. He is a key cog in the Bulls' passing attack.

--Sophomore WR Terrence Mitchell didn't play against Pittsburgh because of a concussion he sustained the previous game against UTEP. He is a major threat on special teams, averaging 11.0 yards on 21 punt returns.

--Junior RB Darrell Scott, playing his first season since transferring from Colorado, is the No. 5 rusher in the Big East with his 84.8 yards-per-game average.

--Senior QB B.J. Daniels is averaging 258.8 yards a game passing, which ranks second in the Big East. He is fourth in the conference in passing efficiency.

--Junior PK Maikon Bonani is 8-of-11 on field goals, a 72.7 percentage that ranks third in the conference.

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