The challenge was clear. The USF defense lined up 70 yards away from the south end zone at Raymond James Stadium with 1:21 on the clock.
The Bulls’ offense had just marched down the field to regain the lead in a topsy-turvy game against Cincinnati in front of 44,248 fans Saturday afternoon.
As the clock showed 12 seconds, Bearcats quarterback Zach Collaros celebrated his two-yard, game-winning touchdown run.
As time expired, USF left guard Jeremiah Warren fumbled a last-ditch, backward pass from B.J. Daniels as the quarterback took off his helmet in frustration.
The Bulls (4-3, 0-3) had lost their third consecutive game and their second straight homecoming game, 37-34 to Cincinnati (6-1, 2-0).
“Boy (that was a) heck of a football game out there, with two teams competing their tail off,” USF coach Skip Holtz said. “It went all the way down to the wire.” Missed opportunities haunted the Bulls all day long, as they threw away potential points in a close game.
“We had some opportunities on offense, but we couldn’t get into the end zone,” Holtz said.
Early in the second quarter, USF was stopped short of the end zone from four yards out on consecutive plays, with running back Demetris Murray rushing for no gain and Daniels throwing an incompletion.
Forced to attempt a 21-yard field goal, the snap went through holder Justin Brockhaus-Kann’s hands, costing the Bulls a chance at three points.
“I asked Brockhaus-Kann, who has been a very reliable steady holder, I said, ‘What happened?,” Holtz said. “He said, ‘Coach, it went through my hands.’ What am I going to do? Scream at him? It wouldn’t make it come back. It was missed opportunities.”
As the second quarter wound down, the Bulls were again in a position to score a touchdown, but failed on three consecutive snaps from inside the Bearcats’ three-yard line.
On second down from the two-yard line, the Bulls ran an option pass to the right with Daniels electing to run instead of throw. He was stopped short of the goal line with 24 seconds remaining in the half, but Holtz opted to delay calling a timeout and run a third-down touchdown attempt. Instead, he chose to run the clock down to three seconds and take a field goal, a decision that took four potential points off the board.
“I only had one timeout left,” Holtz said. “I certainly didn’t want to take it (after second down) and then maybe take a sack or get a lost yardage play. It was 10-7 (Cincinnati). I said, ‘If we come out with a field goal at this point, that needs to be the worst thing to happens to us, is a 10-10 tie at halftime.’ I was not willing to roll the dice and call a timeout with 15 seconds left.”
In the third quarter, with the score tied at 17-17, Daniels scored on a 42-yard run, but it was called back because of a holding penalty on Warren. Two plays later, Daniels scored on a 16-yard scamper, but it was called back because of a hold on wide receiver Sterling Griffin. USF only ended up with a field goal on the drive.
In the end, USF threw away too many points to win on a day the defense struggled, giving up 507 yards, including 70 yards in 75 seconds on Cincinnati’s game-winning drive.
Following losses by conference leaders West Virginia and Rutgers on Friday night, the Bulls could have gotten back into the conference race with a win. But, following the theme of the day, it was an opportunity the Bulls missed.