No room for error now

HATTIESBURG — The USF football team may never look past an opponent, but that doesn’t stop the Bulls from looking ahead. Which is why it wasn’t a surprise that USF knew exactly what position they were in entering Saturday’s game against Southern Miss.

And following USF’s 27-6 loss to the Golden Eagles in M.M. Roberts Stadium, the Bulls are well aware of the position they are in for the rest of the season — lose again and there will be no chance at a bowl bid this season.

“Coming into the game, Coach (Jim Leavitt) told us we had to win at least four,” junior wide receiver Brian Fisher said. “We lost this one so we have to win the next four.”

Like Fisher said, if the Bulls (4-3, 2-2 C-USA) want their first postseason berth they need to win their final four games. There is a six-win minimum for a bowl bid and USF has already lost against Alabama, TCU and Southern Miss.

Wins over Division I-AA opponents, Nicholls State and Charleston Southern, don’t count toward the minimum win total. The only victories that count for a bowl bid are against Louisville and Army.

“That is the reality,” junior offensive lineman Alex Herron said. “(But) if we don’t win eight games or nine games, then we shouldn’t go to a bowl.”

What seemed to be even worse for the players was that they didn’t believe they should have lost. And on paper, they probably shouldn’t have. For the second consecutive week, the USF offense compiled big numbers and was able to move the ball well.

However, unlike last week against Charleston Southern when the Bulls scored a season-high 55 points, the unit didn’t manage to find the end zone and produced a season-low six points.

“That’s the most frustrating thing for an offense,” Herron said. “We just weren’t able to get it into that end zone, and that hurt us so bad.”

The biggest mistakes the Bulls made were on two consecutive possessions in the second quarter. In the team’s second possession of the quarter, USF drove to the Golden Eagles’ 5-yard line, but had to attempt a field goal after a 20-yard personal foul penalty. Santiago Gramatica’s 40-yard attempt was then blocked and returned 61 yards for a touchdown by Rod Davis, giving the Golden Eagles a 13-3 lead.

USF again drove down the field on its next possession and reached the USM 16-yard line. However, on second down, running back Clenton Crossley fumbled after an 8-yard gain, and the Golden Eagles recovered at their own 4 to thwart the drive and USF’s chance at getting back into the game.

“We just didn’t finish,” said junior quarterback Ronnie Banks, who on his return to the starting lineup, completed 22 of 52 passes for a game-high 260 yards.

“We had our chances. We just didn’t finish and that’s why we lost. It’s very frustrating (and) disappointing,” he said.

Despite going into halftime down 17 points, Leavitt still didn’t think his team was out of the game.

“The second half, you know, I felt good,” Leavitt said. “Even halfway through the third quarter I felt we had a chance to win it. I felt good, but we just couldn’t get our offense going.”

At least not to enough to compete against the Southern Miss offense. The Golden Eagles put up season highs in points and total offense. They also got their first 100-yard rusher, 100-yard receiver and two-touchdown passer of the season.

However, no one was willing to give Southern Miss all the credit for the loss.

“We had some untimely fumbles and mishaps today,” Fisher said. “It was not anything Southern Miss was doing, it was just us. We beat ourselves, again.”

Unfortunately for the Bulls, they can’t afford to beat themselves again this season.