Saturday’s game was a struggle in just about every offensive phase for USF.
Pittsburgh’s defensive approach during a 41-14 pounding of USF at Heinz Field, in which the Panthers frustrated the Bulls’ offense throughout the day, was a bend-but-don’t-break mentality, said USF offensive coordinator Mike Canales.
“We know we’re a spread team – we know we’re going to run the quarterback and spread people out,” he said. “What’s happened is because we hit the big plays against Florida State and Syracuse, teams are playing soft and (making us) drive the ball the length of the field. When you have to do that and you’re 70, 80 yards to go, the percentages make it a lot tougher.”
Whether it was penalties, third downs conversions or turnovers, the Bulls could not find a rhythm on offense, sputtering for 212 yards.
USF, which was 4 of 16 on third downs in a loss to Cincinnati nearly two weeks ago, was 3-for-11 on third downs while Pittsburgh converted 11 of 16. As the Bulls tried to establish some sort of running game, it became critical, Canales said.
“We were getting 3 or 4 yards (per play). That’s pretty good,” Canales said. “It comes to third and medium, and you have to execute. Our third and medium has absolutely killed us.”
Penalties have hurt USF, too. Coming into the game as the most penalized team in the Big East, USF committed nine more on Saturday, several that halted momentum on offensive drives.
On the first drive of the game, the Bulls committed a false start on a second and five, leading to a punt. On USF’s second drive, a personal foul wiped out a 19-yard run by junior Jamar Taylor with USF near Pittsburgh territory. The next play, the Bulls were called for delay of game.
“It’s just frustrating, because it seemed like every time something good will happen to us, something bad will happen,” Canales said.
For a moment in the second quarter, it looked like USF’s offense was turning things around when redshirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels completed a 41-yard pass to freshman Sterling Griffin, which eventually led to a touchdown by junior running back Mike Ford.
But the Panthers responded, and USF continued to run. The Bulls had only 13 passing attempts all game – five of which were from Evan Landi, who was in at the end of the game.
“Could we have gone out there and thrown all day? Who knows,” said USF coach Jim Leavitt. “You better establish the running game. We just didn’t have that many possessions. They moved the ball on our defense. We didn’t get the ball back.”
USF managed 122 yards on the ground, while Daniels, who had two interceptions and 54 yards passing, had 50.
Canales said he isn’t concerned with Daniels, who has only played a handful of college football games after stepping in when senior Matt Grothe was injured earlier in the season.
“It’s going to be a trying time,” Canales said. “I’m sure it was like this when Matt (was young). The more he sees it, the better he’ll get at it. It’s just the growing pains we’re going through with B.J.”
However, the Panther defense made it that much tougher.
“They didn’t blitz us at all,” Canales said. “They were going to force us to drive the length of the field. (Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt) played the odds, and it worked out for him.”