This time, the No.9 team played like it. And USF, while much improved, played like a team on the outside of the “Big Three” looking in.
USF (3-2, 1-0) bore no resemblance to the team that soundly beat then-No.9 Louisville on Sept. 24. Instead, it looked overwhelmed and outmatched in its 27-7 loss to Miami (3-1, 1-1) at the Orange Bowl on Saturday.
“I think this game humbled a couple guys, brought everybody back down to earth,” said running back Andre Hall, who finished with 53 yards on nine carries.
Led by a rock-solid defense that allowed USF a season-low 174 yards, the No.9 Hurricanes turned the Bulls’ first-ever in-state road game into a forgetful experience.
With rain pouring down periodically throughout the game, USF committed five turnovers, all in the first half, that led to 10 Miami points and a 20-0 halftime deficit.
“I don’t know why we turned it over as many times as we did,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “I saw early it may be a rough go. You’re not going to win a game against most people with five turnovers, especially Miami.”
Quarterbacks Pat Julmiste, who started, and backup Courtney Denson both struggled against Miami’s swarming defense. The duo combined to complete just 11-of-31 pass attempts for 69 yards, the lowest passing total this season.
The two passers also threw a combined four interceptions, three of which were tipped by USF receivers who dropped several balls throughout the game.
Julmiste, who played most of the game, never looked comfortable.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” said Julmiste, who threw three of the interceptions. “I put the offense and the team in some bad situations. Against a defense like that, I can’t turn the ball over three times.”
For most of the game, USF’s defense matched Miami’s. Despite giving up 351 yards of offense, the Bulls forced four turnovers and held the Hurricanes to 10 points after the first quarter.
USF recovered a Miami fumble on the Hurricanes’ 26-yard line a minute into the second half. However, on the ensuing Bulls’ drive, the offense ran three plays for a loss of one yard and kicker Kyle Bronson pushed a 42-yard field goal wide left.
“Our defensive effort was really outstanding,” Leavitt said. “We put them in a lot of tough situations. But I was disappointed the offense didn’t play better. We couldn’t get anything going.”
A bright note – if that’s possible – is that USF avoided its first shutout when Julmiste connected with receiver Johnny Peyton on a 14-yard touchdown with 5 minutes and 56 seconds left in the game.
Last week against Louisville, USF had 86 yards after the first quarter. At halftime against Miami, the Bulls offense managed 65 yards on 37 plays.
“Miami’s defense was very, very good,” Leavitt said. “Offensively we couldn’t do a whole lot. When you’re one-dimensional, they can tee off on your offense.”
Hall had a different explanation for the Bulls’ stalling offense.
“It wasn’t them; it was more our guys,” he said. “Our guys didn’t come out like they should have. It wasn’t them stopping us, it was us stopping ourselves.”
After its upcoming bye week, USF begins the rest of its Big East schedule on the road against plunging Pittsburgh (1-4, 0-1).
“A loss is a loss; you can’t take nothing away from a loss,” defensive back Johnnie Jones said. “But we have a bye week, and then it’s back to the drawing board. We’ll correct our mistakes on Monday and run hard on Tuesday. We’re going to grind. It’s not like we’re going to cut our goals short just because we lost to Miami.”