Bulls miss opportunity at Big East title shot

With the Big East Conference race seeming up for grabs, the Bulls were in a position to get right back into the mix, but couldn't seize the opportunity. Check out what looked good and what still needs work.

With the way things had gone the night before in the Big East Conference race, South Florida looked to be in position to get right back into contention despite having lost its first two league contests.

But instead of taking advantage of the defeats pinned on conference leaders Rutgers and West Virginia, the Bulls dropped a 37-34 decision to Cincinnati that virtually knocks them out of the race.

With two road games at Rutgers and Syracuse coming up after an open date, the Bulls have more mundane matters on their hands, like ending a three-game losing streak that has dropped them to 4-3 overall and 0-3 in the conference.

"Right now, I'm probably thinking a lot more about the missed opportunities today than the big picture," coach Skip Holtz said after the Bulls couldn't stop the Bearcats from driving 70 yards for the decisive touchdown in the final minute. "We had some opportunities on both sides of the ball that we couldn't capitalize on."

In addition to the failure to protect a three-point lead over the final minute and 27 seconds, the Bulls saw penalties and turnovers hurt their chances.

They had an interception and lost three fumbles, two of them deep in Cincinnati territory, and were penalized 10 times for 109 yards.

One was a face-mask call on a Cincinnati punt, a rare call in that circumstance. The Bearcats cashed in on that with a field goal. Justin Brockhaus-Kann's botched hold on a short field goal attempt denied the Bulls a likely three points in the second quarter.

That's a six-point swing on those two plays alone.

"That's why I said 'missed opportunities' when we talked about it," Holtz said. "I asked Brockhaus-Kann what happened on the hold. He said, 'Coach it went through my hands.'

"What was I supposed to do? Scream at him? There's nothing we could do to bring the play back. It was a missed opportunity. I knew he felt as bad as anyone else did, but I needed him the rest of the day. "

NOTES, QUOTES

--USF continues to get the jump on opponents. By scoring on QB B.J. Danels' 14-yard pass to WR Sterling Griffin on its third possession in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead against Cincinnati, the Bulls now have scored first in all seven of their games this season. The Bulls have not punted in the first quarter in six of the games.

--The Bulls may have blown a chance to score more points just before halftime, but instead of calling a timeout to run a play on third-and-goal from Cincinnati's three-yard line, coach Skip Holtz elected to let the clock run down to three seconds before kicking a field goal for a 10-10 tie. "I was not willing to roll the dice, call a timeout, and then with 15 seconds left, call a dropback pass and risk a sack and not end up getting the three points out of it," said Holtz, who had seen Daniels get caught in the middle of the field on second down when a sprint-out pass had been called.

--Holtz was so unhappy with some flags against his Bulls in the loss at Connecticut a week earlier that he sent a letter to the Big East office expressing his concerns. He might send another. DE Ryne Giddins was flagged for a face-mask penalty on a Cincinnati punt, allowing the Bearcats to move into position for a field goal and 10-7 lead in the second quarter, but the penalty could not be picked up on replays by the television crew broadcasting the game.

KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Deonte Welch -- A redshirt freshman, Welch had a breakout game against Cincinnati with five catches for 130 yards. He had only six receptions for 83 yards entering the game. The Bulls desperately need someone to step up at the position, especially if Sterling Griffin's ankle keeps him out for an extended time.

LOOKING GOOD: The Bulls compiled 495 hards in total offense, thanks to a passing game that netted 409. Griffin had eight receptions for 73 yards before going out with an ankle injury, and Welch had the 130 on five receptions. True freshman WR Andre Davis had 60 yards on just four catches, including one for a touchdown that gave the Bulls a brief 34-30 lead with less than a minute-and-a-half left in the game.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The Bulls had their issues on special teams. Giddins was called for the personal foul on a Cincinnati punt, and holder Justin Brockhaus-Kann mishandled a snap on a field goal try. The Bulls also failed to come up with a loose ball on a muffed punt despite numerous opportunities to do so. Also, the Bulls had four turnovers, losing three fumbles and an interception. The running game netted only 86 yards with 28 yards coming on two sacks.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's disheartening because I look at how hard they played and how hard they worked." -- Coach Skip Holtz on the loss to Cincinnati.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--Junior QB B.J. Daniels recorded his third straight 300-yard passing day with his 31-of-48 day for 409 yards. The attempts were a career high and the fifth most in program history. Daniels did have an interception, however, and gave up a fumble while trying to escape a sack instead of just getting rid of the football.

--Sophomore LB DeDe Lattimore led the Bulls in tackles with nine, his third consecutive game with at least eight stops. He force his second forced fumble of the season and came up with his first career recovery in the third quarter. He also was credited with breaking up a pass.

--Senior DE Claude Davis blocked a Cincinnati PAT attempt, his first career blocked kick, and also record his fourth sack of the season, a team high.

ROSTER REPORT

--Sophomore WR Sterling Griffin left the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury. Griffin missed all of last season with an injury to the same ankle.

--Sophomore CB Jaquez Jenkins made his first career start when the Bulls opened with their nickel package on defense. Jenkins had his first career interception and recorded four tackles

--Junior WR Victor Marc saw action as a punt returner for the first time and had a 40-yard runback -- a season long for the Bulls -- that set up a touchdown that gave USF a short-lived 27-17 lead over the Bearcats.

--Junior PK Maikon Bonani extended his school field goal record to 43 by hitting both of his opportunities against Cincinnati.

--Sophomore WR Stephen Bravo-Brown missed the game because of a knee injury.

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