So, what’s the cure for the late-season swoon that’s been around the USF football program for the past three years?
If the Bulls knew, it probably would be a lot easier to stop.
But the slide is not slowing, and USF (6-3, 2-3) dropped its third loss in four games as Rutgers (7-2, 2-2) pounded the Bulls for the second straight year – this time a 31-0 drubbing in Piscataway, N.J. on Thursday night.
“It’s no specific thing that I can pinpoint,” said senior Kion Wilson of USF’s Big East performances. “Just the small things we have to go back and patch up. That’s our biggest letdown so far this season. We will play good defense … then that one letdown will cost us. It doesn’t feel as if we lost as bad. But when we go back and look at the big plays we gave up, that’s when it takes a toll.”
The good news is that it appears the Bulls’ tough stretch of Big East games is over with Louisville and Connecticut, two of the conference’s worst teams, remaining. USF, still needing one win to gain bowl eligibility, also has Miami on the schedule.
The Bulls face the Cardinals (4-6, 1-4) on Saturday at noon for homecoming. Louisville needed a late touchdown to avoid an upset against Syracuse on Saturday.
It’s consistency that USF is after, showing it is capable of quality wins and head-scratching losses. USF has four consecutive wins over ranked teams in a three-year span. However, the Bulls have also lost by substantial margins to conference opponents, similar to the Thursday’s against the Scarlet Knights.
The question “Why?” is still on the minds of some players.
“We prepared well all week – I think,” said senior safety Nate Allen. “We had good practices and we were ready. The energy was there in practice and we were psyched up for this game. We just didn’t execute, offensively and defensively.”
The big plays at crucial times have continued to haunt. In USF’s first loss to Cincinnati, it was a 75-yard touchdown scamper by Bearcats backup quarterback Zach Collaros. It was numerous throws over the secondary in a 41-14 loss at Pittsburgh.
However, it was the lack of big plays by the USF offense that provided the most trouble Thursday. Quarterback B.J. Daniels was flushed from the pocket throughout the night and the Bulls only managed 159 total yards and seven first downs. It was the first time USF didn’t score in a regular season game in its 13-year history.
USF coach Jim Leavitt said two fumbles lost and two interceptions didn’t help, either.
“We got a couple of pass plays and we did get some things going, but we threw a couple of interceptions, and I said before the game that Rutgers has done very well with the turnovers,” he said. “We had to protect the ball, and we didn’t protect the ball and we didn’t win. I don’t want to sit there and say it was all us. Do I think we could have played better? Well, yeah, I think and hope so.”
So how do the Bulls stop the big losses? It takes short-term memory.
“We can’t regress. It’s all about trying to establish ourselves and get to a bowl game,” Wilson said. “That’s our next goal … just going out and continuing to play with the energy and enthusiasm that we have played with in our winning games. Hopefully that will continue.”