Having the national spotlight and the only primetime football game Sunday night couldn’t help the Bulls get past Cincinnati, losing 23-6 at Nippert Stadium.
USF (5-3, 1-2) avoided what would have been its second shutout in team history. The other was the 14-0 loss to North Carolina State at the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 31. With Sunday’s loss, the Bulls remain a win short of bowl eligibility.
USF struggled on offense throughout the game, managing 220 total yards, and went 3-for-14 on third-down conversions against a Bearcat defense ranked 53rd in Division I-A.
“They certainly dominated us,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “You have to give Cincinnati credit. Their defense is really good, and we knew they were really good.”
The Bulls were able to score a touchdown with less than a minute left in the game when backup quarterback Pat Julmiste hit receiver Amp Hill for his first career touchdown, a 10-yard pass. USF tried for the two-point conversion, but Julmiste’s pass was overthrown.
USF’s had another chance to score in the third quarter when the Bulls drove to Cincinnati’s 13-yard line. On a first and 10, quarterback Matt Grothe threw an interception (his fourth of the season), keeping the Bulls out of the end zone.Grothe, who finished
11-of-21 passing for just 51 yards, left the game with less than 6 minutes left in the game with a gash on the bridge of his nose.
Julmiste finished the game, going 8-of-15 for 80 yards and a touchdown.
Cincinnati (4-4, 1-2) struck the Bulls early, forcing a safety on just their second drive of the game.
USF got pinned on its 1-yard line, and on the first play, the Bulls gave the ball to running back Ben Williams, who was stopped short of the line of scrimmage. The last time USF gave up a safety was in similar conditions, when the team faced Connecticut in 33-degree weather on Nov. 26. Game time temperature Sunday was 45 degrees.
USF didn’t fare much better the rest of the first half, managing just 85 yards and three first downs.
The Bearcats nearly took a 5-0 lead into halftime, but kicker Kevin Lovell missed a
29-yard field-goal attempt. The senior also missed a 47-yard attempt in the third quarter.
Cincinnati scored the game’s first touchdown in the third quarter when senior linebacker Kevin McCullough recovered a Taurus Johnson fumble and returned it 36 yards for the score.
Already down 9-0, the Bulls’ next drive resulted in a three and out. However, on fourth and 4, punter Justin Teachey tried a fake punt by running the ball but fell 3 yards short of the conversion.
Cincinnati quarterback Dustin Grutza threw a 16-yard pass to tight end Brent Celek, who broke the team record for most career catches by a tight end. Two plays later, running back Greg Moore added a 1-yard score to take a 16-0 lead late in the fourth. Grutza finished 11-of-18 with 104 yards passing.
USF committed three turnovers – Grothe’s interception and two fumbles. Grothe had a fumble on a scramble in the second quarter. The Bulls now have 13 fumbles this season, three of them coming from Grothe.
USF lacked a running attack Sunday, as the team combined for just 80 yards. Sophomore Ricky Ponton, coming off a career-best game in which he had 101 yards, had just 38 yards on nine carries. Williams had just 23 yards on seven carries.
The Bearcats added a 27-yard rushing touchdown by running back Butler Benton on a four-play drive.