LAWRENCE, Kan. – For the first time this season, the Bulls went into halftime without a deficit. Then again, they also went into their visiting locker room without any points.
Both teams did.
It took 35 minutes, 45 seconds for Kansas (3-1) to score, the points coming on a 37-yard field goal by Jayhawks kicker Scott Webb. The Bulls were handed a 13-7 loss – their first of the season – by the Jayhawks on Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 40,943 at Memorial Stadium.
The Bulls had their chances. USF (3-1) had a last-minute drive of 34 yards with less than a minute of regulation time remaining. A touchdown and a successful extra point would have given the Bulls a one-point lead. But on the last play, quarterback Matt Grothe – who has accounted for 73 percent of the team’s total offense this season – was intercepted by Justin Thornton as time expired.
“I really thought we’d win the game on the last drive,” said coach Jim Leavitt, who is 0-3 against Big 12 schools and 0-10 against non-Big East BCS teams. “We used our clock really well. … We came in here expecting to win, and we didn’t win. That’s disappointing.”
Leavitt added that most of the game the Bulls gave the Jayhawks “a long field” in which to start their drives. Those field placements came via the result of a new style of punting USF adapted. Kickoff specialist Justin Teachey began pooching punts – rugby style – down the field. Teachey finished the game averaging 42.8 yards per punt and forced Kansas to start four drives within its 5-yard line.
The problem for the Bulls turned out to be the Jayhawks’ success rate on third-down conversions. In the first half alone, Kansas converted 8 of 11 third downs, giving the Jayhawks more chances to move down the field.
USF’s defense, led by linebacker Stephen Nicholas – who had a team-high 15 tackles (10 solo) – did make stops. But it was a costly penalty by cornerback Ryan Gilliam that put the Bulls down 10-7.
Gilliam lined up against Kansas receiver Marcus Herford with the Jayhawks 18 yards from the end zone. Gilliam was called for pushing off Herford, and though Gilliam declined to comment following the game, Leavitt was uncertain what to make of the call.
“I though Gilliam played it well,” Leavitt said. “I guess they wanted his eyes back toward the ball.”
Grothe, who leads the team in rushing with 279 yards, was the Bulls’ lone scorer. The points came on a 7-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The freshman quarterback felt the team should have played better throughout the game, especially on the team’s first drive of the game.
After Kansas opted to kick the ball following the coin toss, the Bulls drove 70 yards, giving them first and goal on the Jayhawks’ 10-yard line. Then USF called four straight quarterback draws that produced only 7 yards.
“We should have scored on the first drive,” said Grothe, who also threw two interceptions. “A couple others we should have capitalized on, (and) we didn’t – that killed us.”
Another play that killed USF, in Grothe’s opinion, was a 46-yard reception by Amp Hill that was negated when tight end Devin Gordon was called for pass interference. The fourth-quarter play would have put the Bulls on the Kansas 22-yard line.
Gordon, who was cited for running into a Jayhawks’ linebacker, said the call was “bogus” and his hit was “clean.”
“He was in the way of my route,” Gordon said. “It was the linebacker who fell down. If I had fell down, the penalty would have been on him. Oh, I hit him, but because he was in the way.”
Gordon said he never felt in the wrong for the penalty that cost the Bulls their most productive play of the night.
“(Leavitt) wasn’t down on me,” Gordon said. “I don’t think I screwed up; I don’t regret what happened. Coach said, ‘Go out there, give 100 percent and forget about it.’ I did that, and I didn’t have to apologize to anyone.”
Grothe called it a momentum killer.
“We’re driving, and on the very next play now, we’re (on) second (down) and forever,” Grothe said. “It was frustrating, but we have to get better.”
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