USF anxious to play again after rough Pittsburgh loss

If you ask coach Skip Holtz or his football players, the first open date of their 2011 season couldn’t have come at a worse time.

The Bulls are coming off a 44-17 drubbing on the road at Pittsburgh to open Big East play last Thursday. The Bulls have this weekend off, meaning the team won’t be back on the field to compete until Oct. 15 at Connecticut – something Holtz said his players are unhappy with.

“We would have played Saturday if they would have let us, after playing the way we did on Thursday,” he said. “For the long term, if we handle this the right way and we can grow from it, we have the pain and the loss in our bag for the next 16 days … I’m not going to say it was a good thing, but we can gain from it.”

The Bulls’ defense looked vulnerable against the Panthers, yielding 307 yards on the ground, mostly to Pittsburgh’s quick tailback, Ray Graham. Graham rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns, earning the Big East Offensive Player of the Week award. The defense continually failed to contain Graham to the middle portion of the field where more tacklers are available, instead allowing him to reach the perimeters.

While Holtz recognizes Graham’s talent and acknowledges that he’s a difficult player to face, he said the defense struggled to implement the defensive gap schemes, allowing Graham to run nearly at will.

“It was almost like recess ball – everybody go tackle him,” he said. “We weren’t holding our gaps and a great back like Graham is going to find that opening and exploit it. It was more assignment, discipline gap integrity than it was just physically getting pushed around up front.”

The Bulls have been off since returning from Pittsburgh, but will return to the practice field this afternoon. USF will also practice Wednesday and Thursday and take Friday and Saturday off before returning to the normal game week schedule by beginning preparations for the Connecticut game Sunday night.