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Fans despondent after Ball State loss

Published: Sunday, September 23, 2012

Updated: Sunday, September 23, 2012 22:09

Some say it’s easier to be a fan of a middle-of-the-pack team than an elite team — that each win means more and each loss hurts less. Good luck telling that to fans of the USF football team.


The team fell to 10-point underdog Ball State 31-27 in a game marked by lackadaisical defense and undisciplined play, including 11 penalties for 115 yards, following a gut-wrenching loss to Rutgers at Raymond James Stadium, taking the Bulls to 0-9 all-time on Thursday nights.

But it isn’t just tangible issues like penalties and turnovers — which have been the main quoted culprits of USF’s two early losses — that plague the team. This is beyond a simple physical fix, beyond something that can be worked on in practice. It’s a recurring problem that has put USF’s passionate fan base on edge.


A 99-yard touchdown drive was for naught, as the defense allowed Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning and the Cardinals to march 10 yards in 75 plays for the game-winning touchdown with 1:02 remaining. Senior quarterback B.J. Daniels was intercepted to end a last-ditch drive, and Ball State celebrated the kind of program-defining win the Bulls had built their reputation with.


Following another tough loss, fans took to social media, frustrated with the type of losses that have defined the faulty side of USF football and used words like “undisciplined,” “disappointed,” and “rage.” A week after the offense  fell flat in a loss to Rutgers, the defense was abused for 413 yards, 31 points and eight third down conversions.


Though it is not inherently embarrassing to lose to a team from the Mid-American Conference — a conference that posted four wins over BCS teams this weekend alone — the fact remains that the USF football program has seemingly remained static since its famous collapse in the 2007 season, when the team reached No. 2 in the national ranking, then fell from the rankings after losing three consecutive games.


Despite the occasional eye-grabbing win, with the Bulls going 17-7 over the Seminoles in Tallahassee in 2009, 23-20 in Miami in 2010 and 23-20 again at Notre Dame in 2011, there have been inexplicable losses to teams the Bulls were expected to defeat.


There was the 13-9 homecoming loss to Syracuse in 2010, the 16-10 loss to a five-win UConn team in
2011, the miscue-filled 20-17 loss to Rutgers two weeks later — when kicker Maikon Bonani missed a chip-shot at the end of regulation — and the 6-3 eyesore loss against Miami the week before Thanksgiving.


There was always the same type of explanation: “one play away,” “not doing the little things,” “we need to hold on to the ball.” After back-to-back losses and a 2-2 record going into a mammoth test against the No. 4 ranked Seminoles at home, fans may be tired of seeing their team fail with the same results time after time.


So who is to blame for the team’s inability to take the next step?

Is it coach Skip Holtz, who is 1-8 at home against BCS teams in his career at USF? Is it athletic director
Doug Woolard, who awarded Holtz with a five-year extension following a 5-7 season? Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch, whose offense failed to score more than 17 points in five of the team’s last eight conference games?

Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, whose defense failed to get to the quarterback once again in Muncie,
recording just one quarterback hurry while Wenning passed for 244 yards and two touchdowns?

There’s a good chance that no individual is to blame for the USF football team’s stagnant performance in
recent seasons. But with a fan base quickly growing impatient, if the Bulls can’t find an answer on the
field, they’ll have to make one of it.

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