TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — One touchdown in the last 15 quarters and a minus-19 turnover ratio for the season.
The Bulls closed with a 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday night. They turned the ball over four times, didn't have a single takeaway of their own and were limited to 117 yards total offense.
USF (3-9, 1-6 Big East) finished its second straight losing season by losing nine of 10 following a 2-0 start, a slide that could cost coach Holtz his job. A year ago, the Bulls dropped seven of eight following a 4-0 start that vaulted them into the Top 25 before a 44-17 loss to Pitt.
Holtz stopped short of saying he expects to be back for a fourth season, but expressed hope that he will while reiterating that the Bulls were beset by injuries and have made strides in ways that are not necessarily reflected in their record.
"But I also understand that we've put some people in a very tough position with where we are, and I understand the nature of this business is to win games," Holtz said. "People don't really care if you're on a fourth quarterback, your fifth defensive end or how many freshmen you're playing. They want to win."
The coach said he expects to meet with athletic director Doug Woolard as early as Sunday to evaluate the season and where the Bulls head from here.
"We've worked hard for the last three years to build this program. It's just really frustrating that we've been through the type of season that we went through, but I'd certainly like to (be back)," Holtz said. "I'd like to see these young players develop into what I know that they can become."
Ray Graham scored on a pair of 1-yard runs, Tino Sunseri tossed a 2-yard TD pass to J.P. Holtz, and a Pitt defense that's allowed just nine points the past two weeks held USF to 6 yards rushing and forced four turnovers, including three interceptions of Matt Floyd in the redshirt freshman's second career start.
Pitt bounced back from losing its first two games to Youngstown State and Cincinnati to qualify for a postseason berth for the fifth straight season. Along the way, the Panthers gave top-ranked Notre Dame its toughest test before losing in triple overtime. They also rebounded from a disappointing loss to Connecticut to upset Rutgers 21-6 and put themselves in a position to extend their first season under coach Paul Chryst.
"It was good to win. I'm proud of the players," Chryst said. "We certainly went through a lot of things this season, but still found a way to earn a right to play another game, and I appreciate that."
Despite forcing turnovers on the Bulls' first three possessions of the game, Pitt only led 13-0 at the half. Jason Hendricks' interception and 10-yard return to the USF 21 set up Graham's TD and a sack-fumble led to Kevin Harper's 25-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
USF failed to take advantage of Marcus Shaw's long kickoff return to the Pitt 48 when Floyd was intercepted for the second time after moving his team to third-and-goal at the Panthers 5. Linebacker Todd Thomas broke on a throw intended for Demetris Murray and returned the pick 33 yards up the left sideline.
USF fell to 16-21 under Holtz, who led the Bulls to an 8-5 record and their sixth consecutive bowl trip two years ago. He inherited a program built from scratch with expectations of contending for Big East titles, but has gone 5-16 in the conference.
An announced crowd of 35,141 that appeared much smaller booed when USF's career scoring leader Maikon Bonani trotted onto the field to kick a 25-yard field goal to avert a shutout.
There were more boos directed at Holtz when the coach ran off the field after the game.
"I understand their frustration. ... They work hard to support this program," Holtz said. "I'm very appreciative of everybody that came out tonight to support the seniors, and I understand their frustrations. ... I'm booing me, too, right now. We want to win."