Bulls fall to Big East rival Pittsburgh

The primetime lights of ESPN’s Thursday night football have done little to help USF in the past two seasons.

Last year, after being ranked No. 2 in the initial Bowl Championship Series rankings, the Bulls lost 30-27 to an unranked Rutgers team. Thursday, the Bulls again lost to a then-unranked Big East foe, falling 26-21 to the Pittsburgh Panthers and dropping from No. 10 to No. 19 in the Associated Press poll.

“Defensively we didn’t play very good, and we didn’t play real good offensively either,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said. “When you have that happen, it’s going to be really tough to win a game.”

This year, the Bulls weren’t doomed by trick plays or a hostile road crowd. The defense allowed big plays and committed costly penalties throughout the night. And, for the third time this season, the Bulls saw a fourth-quarter lead evaporate.

This time, however, the Bulls offense was held out of the end zone, and the Bulls were unable to rally for another close win.

“I thought — with all the mistakes we made — we were fortunate to keep the game that close,” Leavitt said. “I’m surprised the game wasn’t further apart.”

The Bulls are 0-1 in conference play and have two of their next three conference games on the road.

“Nobody’s gone through the Big East undefeated in all the years we’ve been in it,” Leavitt said. “We’ve got to find a way to get through it and get ready to play.”

The Bulls have let games slip away late three times this season. USF allowed the University of Central Florida to score 14 points in a span of 66 seconds to force overtime in week two. The following week, USF’s defense allowed Kansas to score 14 points in the fourth quarter to tie the game.

Thursday, USF took a 21-20 lead with less than six minutes remaining. Pittsburgh, however, scored three plays after the Bulls, capping their drive with a three-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back LeSean McCoy.

Unlike the prior occasions when USF let teams score late, junior quarterback Matt Grothe and the Bulls’ offense didn’t get USF out on top.

The secondary was called for three pass interference penalties and allowed a 52-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.

“I don’t know how many people we played tonight, but they all got picked on,” USF defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “It was one of the poorest exhibitions of tackling and coverage I’ve seen in a long time. We have a lot of work to do if we’re going to get this thing back on track.”

Senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said it was the three-play drive late in the game, however, that was most disappointing for the defense.

“It was hard,” he said. “They just went down there in their two-minute offense and scored. It was disrespectful as a defense. You don’t work so hard to go out and piss down your leg. You can’t do that. We work too hard and the coaches work too hard, and we’ve got to play better.”