It may have been a loss, but the USF football team looked like a different squad in Kentucky, making big plays and responding well to a large deficit while almost handing the Louisville Cardinals its first loss of the 2012 season.
After losses to Ball State and Temple in which the Bulls looked sluggish and uninterested, USF responded to the challenge of playing the No. 16 Cardinals on the road for 58 minutes, but fell short in the final two minutes, losing 27-25 after allowing a late touchdown drive to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Despite the loss, which sent the Bulls to 2-5 for the season and marked the teams fifth consecutive loss, the longest losing streak in program history, the team showed a quality that had been missing for a large part of the losing streak the ability to fight back in adversity.
Though USF was not blown out in its previous losses, with the largest a 13-point loss to then-No. 3 Florida State, the team rarely looked in control of a game. Each game, it seemed like a matter of time before a momentum-swinging turnover or three-and-out on offense would put the game out of reach for USF.
This was not the case against Louisville, as the Bulls responded to a 21-10 deficit in the fourth quarter with back-to-back scoring drives to take the lead, in a performance reminiscent of the teams week two win in Reno against Nevada.
The Bulls front seven held Louisville running backs Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright in check, limiting them to season-low 2.5 and 2.6 yards, respectively, impressing coach Skip Holtz with their play.
I was really happy with the play of the front seven, he said Sunday. We managed to control both of their running backs, but were hurt by the running of Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater, the Cardinals quarterback who was lethally efficient through the air going 21-of-25 for 256 yards and two touchdowns, accounting for 74 of the teams 128 rushing yards.
Holtz said the Bulls need to control their pass rushs aggressiveness to prevent long runs from quarterbacks.
I think we have to be smarter with the pass rush, he said. There are times when you can just pin your ears back and rush and get there as quickly as possible, but then there are also times where, if its a third-and-eight and youre in coverage, you have to contain the pocket and prevent the quarterback from running.
Another bright spot was the play of runningback Lindsey Lamar, who finished with 10 rushes for 115 yards, including multiple strong runs up the middle of the defense.
While the Bulls have plenty of positives to take from their performance against Louisvillle, the reality is that another tally was added to the loss column. Moral victories can only take the team so far, but Holtz said he appreciates his teams attitude.
Practice was a little slow at the start tonight, Holtz said on Sunday. A lot of guys are in a lot of pain, because a loss like this hurts, but they really started to come around at the end of the hour-long practice. At the same time, you need to be looking for results and answers.
While sluggish losses to Temple, Ball State and Rutgers were a hindrance to the teams confidence, USFs performance against Louisville was the closest it could come to a moral victory while still adding to the loss column, and can build confidence in the teams abilities moving forward.