Amid the cold air in East Hartford, Conn., the sugar in the Bulls’ gas tanks finally fouled their engines in a 15-10 loss to the Huskies. Turnovers, penalties and dropped passes all culminated in the tough defeat, which dropped the football team out of Big East title contention – which No. 12 West Virginia won outright – and a shot at a possible BCS berth.
The Huskies prevailed despite only scoring seven points offensively behind a defense that forced five turnovers. In one of the game’s more controversial plays, the USF coaching staff gambled for a win on fourth-and-seven rather than attempt the field goal to make it a two-point game.
“I thought about the field goal, and the reason why I didn’t do it was because I wanted two opportunities to win the ballgame and not one,” coach Jim Leavitt said in an Associated Press story.
“I really felt like if we didn’t make it – which we didn’t – that our defense was playing really well and that we’d give our offense good field position.”
The result of the play, which lost 13 yards on a Courtney Denson sack, was one of many miscues in a myriad of missed opportunities and lost chances for USF. The Bulls’ defense gave up the early score to the Huskies, but tightened up to shut out Connecticut’s offense for the rest of the game.
Running back Lou Allen broke free for a 60-yard touchdown for the Huskies’ only offensive score. Quarterback Matt Bonislawski returned from a broken collarbone suffered in early October, but couldn’t get his offense moving, completing only 8-of-26 passes.
USF’s offense was equally abysmal for most of the game, its signature running attack snuffed out by the No. 6 defense in the nation. Andre Hall managed just 93 yards on 21 carries, but the majority came on a 36-yard run in the second quarter. Hall refused to use the cold weather as an excuse for USF’s poor performance.
“Connecticut was a tough challenge for us. It wasn’t the weather,” Hall said in an Associated Press story. “With the modern technology and equipment that can be used, I don’t think the weather affected any of our guys. I’m not going to make any excuses for that being a reason why we lost.”Despite throwing a long touchdown in the second quarter, quarterback Pat Julmiste struggled in obvious passing situations, tossing three interceptions, the third proving to be the most costly.
On a fourth-quarter drive starting at the Connecticut 44-yard line, Julmiste dropped back on the first play and sent a pass over the head of S.J. Green – who claims he lost the ball in the lights – right into safety Tyvon Branch’s hands.
In many situations, the Bulls seemed to shoot themselves in the foot. Early in the fourth quarter, Julmiste hit wide receiver Jackie Chambers for a short pass. After shrugging off multiple tackles, Chambers ran 75 yards for the potential go-ahead score. The Bulls were called for offensive holding – as well as an ineligible receiver downfield, which was declined – nullifying the play.
The Bulls gave up a safety in the second quarter when Chris Carothers nearly snapped the ball over Julmiste’s head.
USF cut the score to 9-7 in the second quarter on a 31-yard pass to Green, but Darius Butler returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for the Huskies’ final score.