Oh, how those October woes persist for USF.
After undefeated starts from August to September for the third consecutive year, the Bulls continued their trend of October letdowns as No. 20 Pittsburgh thrashed them 41-14 at Heinz Field on Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 50,019.
USF began the season 5-0 but is on a two-game conference slide, moving its overall record to 4-7 in October over a three-season 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, who was held to one tackle Saturday. “We just have to somehow move forward. We’ve been here two years in a row, but we just can’t let it happen again. It’s starting right now, but we have to stop it right now.”
The loss also puts a dark cloud over USF’s hopes for a fifth consecutive bowl trip. The Bulls, who played two Division I-AA opponents in non-conference, need two more wins to be bowl eligible — but USF faces a tough schedule.
USF has three remaining home games, two of which are top-25 teams: No. 22 West Virginia on Friday; Louisville for homecoming on Nov. 21; and No. 18 Miami on Nov. 28.
Road trips remain at Rutgers, where the Bulls haven’t won in three tries, and Connecticut, where they haven’t won in two attempts on the road.
USF senior linebacker Kion Wilson said the Bulls have a lot to learn from Saturday. Pittsburgh torched the Bulls’ 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.
“Hands down: We have a lot of critiquing to do on the defensive side of the ball,” Wilson said. “We have guys that just have to take the criticism, take the coaching and be ready to man up for next week’s battle.”
Led by senior quarterback Bill Stull, who finished 18-for-25 with 245 yards passing and two touchdowns, the Panthers had 486 yards, 21 first downs and didn’t punt once. Freshman running back Dion Lewis, ranked among the nation’s best, rushed for 111 yards and two scores as well.
“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 of total offense.
If it wasn’t for backup Evan Landi’s 20-yard touchdown toss to junior Dontavia Bogan with 10 seconds remaining in the game, it would have been the worst conference defeat since USF joined the Big East.
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, but that was as close as the Bulls would get.
USF coach Jim Leavitt, who has led the Bulls to those five consecutive bowl game appearances, said Pittsburgh “just whooped us.”
“We got beat bad. There’s no question about that,” he said. “They took over the game.”
So, where does USF go from here?
“We’ve got to look at the film. We’ve been disappointed with a few guys, but I’m not going to point them all out,” Leavitt said. “The last few weeks we’ve been playing poorly. We can’t get going with that.
Wilson, who had a team-high 14 tackles, said if the Bulls are going to turn their season around, they can’t look to their past, particularly the last three years.
“We have to get this out of our heads. We have to build,” he said. “Adversity will rise from time to time.”