Oh, how those October woes continue for USF.
After undefeated starts in August and September for the third consecutive year, the Bulls continued their trend of October letdowns with a 41-14 loss to No. 20 Pittsburgh at Heinz Field on Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 50,019.
USF began the season 5-0 but dropped consecutive conference losses, moving its overall record to 4-7 in October over a three-year span.
The defeat also drags the Bulls (5-2, 1-2) deeper down the Big East standings and seemingly diminishes any shot of a conference championship this year, as Pittsburgh (7-1, 4-0) now sits atop the league.
“We can’t live in the past,” said USF defensive end George Selvie. “We just have to somehow move forward. We’ve been here two years and a row, but we just can’t let it happen again. It’s starting right now, but we have to stop it right now.”
Pittsburgh torched USF’s defense, which entered the game as the Big East’s best, in the first half, gaining nearly 300 yards en route to a 31-7 halftime lead.
Led by senior quarterback Bill Stull, the Panthers continued to pour it on in the second half, finishing with 486 yards and 21 first downs without punting the entire game.
Stull finished 18-for-25 with 245 yards passing and two touchdowns, while freshman running back Dion Lewis, ranked among the nation’s best, rushed for 111 yards and two scores.
“We let the ball get behind us,” said USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey. “I’m very disappointed.”
The Bulls, who entered as the Big East’s second-best scoring offense, hurt themselves with nine penalties and couldn’t find a rhythm on offense all day, managing just 212 total yards.
“I feel like we beat ourselves: penalties, missed opportunities and not completing drives,” said USF quarterback B.J. Daniels, who finished with just 104 yards total offense.
Stull, who started the game 11-for-11, connected with tight end Mike Cruz and receiver Jonathan Baldwin in the first half, while backup quarterback Tino Sunseri threw one to tight end Dorin Dickerson. Lewis had a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs.
USF’s first touchdown came from junior running back Mike Ford, a 3-yard run that cut a 14-0 deficit in half during the second quarter.
However, the Panthers defense shut down the Bulls until the final seconds of the game, when backup Evan Landi threw a 20-yard touchdown to Dontavia Bogan that prevented USF from suffering its worst conference defeat since joining the Big East.
USF now sits just above the bottom of the Big East with four conference games and a meeting with No. 8 Miami remaining. The Bulls still need two more wins to be bowl eligible since they played two Division I-AA opponents.
Senior linebacker Kion Wilson, who had a team-high 14 tackles, said the Bulls can’t look back at their past.
“We have to get this out of our heads. We have to build,” he said. “Adversity will rise from time to time.”