Last year on a Thursday night, then-No. 2 South Florida lost its first game of the season to a Big East rival — crippling its hopes for a National Championship.
Thursday night, the No. 10 Bulls let a late lead slip away — hampering its hopes for a National Championship and giving them a 0-1 start in conference play.
The Pittsburgh offense needed three plays and 1:14 to march down the field for a game-winning drive, capped by LeSean McCoy’s three-yard touchdown with 4:43 remaining in the game.
McCoy had 165 yards total offense and two touchdowns in the Panthers’ 26-21 victory over the Bulls at Raymond James Stadium.
“I thought we tackled poorly,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said. “Part of that was (McCoy), and part of it was us not tackling well.”
Pittsburgh took a 17-7 lead going into halftime, led by McCoy’s 64 yards rushing and one touchdown.
“It kind of took me a little bit to get going,” McCoy said. “The coaches have been so patient with me, though.”
A 16-play scoring drive that lasted nearly eight minutes in the second quarter tied the game at 7-7. The Bulls defense had three penalties on that possession.
USF defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said that the Panther’s drive was a key part of losing the game.
“They had that long drive,” Burnham said. “You can’t blame anyone but ourselves. You can’t have that many penalties in that sort of situation.”
Pittsburgh’s offense had another 16-play scoring drive that led to a 31-yard field by senior kicker Conor Lee with 9:40 remaining in the game, placing the Panthers up 20-14.
After totaling 57 rushing yards in the first three quarters, USF rushed for 64 yards on a nine play, 86-yard drive that ended with a 22-yard touchdown reception by junior wide receiver Jessie Hester — taking the lead 21-20 late in the fourth quarter.
“It was hard,” McKenzie said. “We went out there, and the next thing you know, they went down scored. It was disrespectful on our part. We should’ve executed better.”
Check out Monday’s issue of The Oracle for more coverage.