PITTSBURGH Ã¢€” Before the game Saturday, USF president Judy Genshaft made a vow: If the USF football team went undefeated in the Big East this season, she would cancel one day of school.Sorry, folks. Looks like it’s just not going to happen.
For a quarter of play it seemed as though it might, but within a span of less than six minutes the Bulls (3-3, 1-1 Big East) blew a 10-0 lead and Pittsburgh (3-4, 2-1 Big East) went on a 21-0 run.
Quarterback Tyler Palko scored four touchdowns – three passing and one rushing, including a 69-yard untouched scamper by Tampa native Greg Lee – which lead to the 31-17 loss at Heinz Field.
The Bulls must not have gotten the message from the Genshaft.
“I thought we played horrible,” said coach Jim Leavitt, whose team dropped to 1-1 in the Big East. “You’ve got to give Pittsburgh credit because you always do that, but I didn’t think we played a very good football game.”
After the game-changing play, the Panthers forced a fumble from running back Ricky Ponton, and Palko threw a 41-yard pass to Lee at the USF three-yard line. Palko then threw another touchdown pass, this one to fullback Tim Murphy.
Less than three minutes later, following a fumble by quarterback Pat Julmiste, which was forced by Clint Session, Palko ran in a 1-yard touchdown.
“We can’t win with turnovers,” said running back Andre Hall, who led all USF offense with 210 total yards, including a 76-yard touchdown reception. “We missed a lot of assignments. During the off-season, I felt very confident about this game. I mean, we came out pretty good, but eventually we just slowed down and rolled over.”
Leavitt said the team never got “in sync” on offense, even though it racked up 34 more yards on total offense. USF had 364, while Pittsburgh had 330.
“I don’t regret any of the decisions I made in this game,” Leavitt said. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t have our team prepared better for this game, but then again we started off ten to nothing.
“Were we ready to play? I don’t know, because after all that we let them back in it.”After Julmiste appeared to be struggling, he was replaced by Courtney Denson, whose two pass attempts resulted in an interception by cornerback Josh Lay and led to an 8-yard pass from Palko to tight end Darrell Strong.
“It wasn’t a hard decision, but Courtney can’t come in and do what he did,” Leavitt said. “You just can’t do that.”
When asked about other quarterback possibilities, Leavitt said, “(Carlton Hill) is not an option. No. He’s not ready.”
A couple of decisions worthy of consideration were the fourth-quarter reverse plays involving Jesse Hester Jr. The first resulted in a tackle for a loss. The second came on a second down and six yards to gain where the Bulls were down by only two touchdowns.
Hall doesn’t blame anyone else, though.
“I made mistakes, so I can’t scream at them for making the same mistakes,” he said. “A lot of times it’s not on the field. It’s at practice. I’m not saying the guys didn’t go hard at practice, but we could’ve worked a little harder, been a little more focused. It wasn’t today that lost it (for) us in the end. It was throughout the week, because personally, that’s the way I feel.”
Julmiste, however, doesn’t want to blame anyone but himself.
“Coach expects perfect play out of us quarterbacks, and we didn’t give that to him,” Julmiste said. “I rest this game squarely on my shoulders. This is no fluke team. You turn it over against Pittsburgh, they going to win.”
The Bulls had a chance to remain undefeated in the Big East, which would have made USF and West Virginia the only two teams in the conference with spotless records. The Mountaineers, who beat No. 19 Louisville 46-44 in triple overtime, boast a 6-1 record and are now ranked 20.
“We’ve got a tough one ahead of us,” Hall said. “We need to come with it at Monday at practice and regain focus.”
And this time, there’s no pressure from Genshaft.