Another road loss ends USF’s chances at a Big East title

USF 10, Cincinnati 24

CINCINNATI, Ohio — On a chilly, October night at Nippert Stadium, the South Florida football team lost more than a game — it lost its shot at the first Big East championship in team history.

The Bulls (6-3, 1-3) couldn’t contain a one-armed quarterback, hold on to the football or convert two late scoring opportunities, falling 24-10 to the Cincinnati Bearcats (6-2, 2-1).

Junior quarterback Matt Grothe was 13-of-31 with three interceptions, and the Bulls drove inside the Bearcats’ red zone twice in the fourth quarter but were unable to turn either drive into points.

“You can’t turn the ball over,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said. “When you turn the ball over against a good football team — against anybody — it’s hard to win a ball game.”

Grothe’s three interceptions were a season high, and the USF defense allowed Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike, who was playing with a soft cast on his fractured left forearm, to throw for 227 yards in the first half.

“I thought Matt just tried too hard on some of those plays,” Leavitt said. “They made a lot of great plays, and we didn’t.”

The interceptions weren’t entirely Grothe’s fault. Senior tight end Cedric Hill bobbled a pass in the fourth quarter, got hit, and the ball fell into the arms of a Bearcats defender. Grothe also had a ball batted at the line of scrimmage that was intercepted.

USF receivers dropped at least five passes, and USF had incompletions on fourth downs twice in the fourth quarter.

Pike, however, had receivers making highlight-reel catches.

Twice he threw to receivers making diving catches while bobbling the football, and threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns.

“We gave up too many long-pass plays,” Leavitt said. “They made great catches and we didn’t. We dropped too many balls.”

Grothe said he doesn’t know what was wrong with the Bulls, who have lost three of their first four Big East games.

The loss leaves USF unranked and tied with Syracuse, who beat Louisville 28-21 on Saturday, at the bottom of the conference standings with a 1-3 record.

Leavitt said the Bulls’ chances of winning the Big East are gone.

Senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said the Bulls will not let their latest loss linger as they go into a bye week.

“We’re going to get this thing fixed. I guarantee this season will not go down the drain,” he said. “We will come together as a team, and we will finish this thing strong.”

Grothe said USF is playing for pride.

“They did a good job of stopping us, and we did a good job of stopping ourselves,” he said. “We know the Big East (title) is out of the picture, so we’ve got to go out and play for ourselves.”

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