CINCY 45, USF 23: A sharp Gino Guidugli virtually ends the Bulls' bowl hopes.
By GREG AUMAN
Published November 21, 2004
CINCINNATI - When it came to Bearcats quarterback Gino Guidugli, USF couldn't do much of anything right in Saturday's 45-23 loss.
The Bulls couldn't stop him. They couldn't sack him. And when it was all over, they couldn't even get his name right.
USF coach Jim Leavitt opened his postgame radio interview by saying that he had to give proper credit to Cincinnati's offense "and their quarterback Gino Garagiola." It was the last embarrassing misstep in a game full of them, a fitting end to a frustrating defeat.
"That's about how our night went," said Leavitt, who apologized for that, as well as his team's second-half collapse. "This is the quarterback who ripped our butts up and down the field and I can't even say his name right."
Guidugli passed for a career-high 377 yards, completing 30 of 36 passes in leading Cincinnati (6-4, 5-2 Conference USA) to a resounding win in the final home game for 24 seniors. Had the Bulls won, they would have been a home victory away from a potential trip to their first bowl. Instead, it's Cincinnati that is bowl eligible and the Bulls who will almost certainly have to wait at least another year.
"The bottom line is we didn't play very good defense," said Leavitt, whose team gave up a school-record 577 yards and will finish with its worst record since its inaugural season in 1997.
Even if the Bulls (4-5, 3-4) can pull off upset wins at home against Memphis and Pittsburgh to be bowl eligible, they likely wouldn't be taken for one of the five bowls contracted to C-USA and would have to find an at-large berth with an outside bowl.
Guidugli completed 20 of his first 22, picking apart the Bulls with three-step drops and quick, short passes that slowly but surely moved the chains. He was at his best on third down, converting four of his first six chances.
"We couldn't stop their third-down plays," Leavitt said. "I bet their third-down efficiency was just absolutely ridiculous."
Cincinnati went 7-for-12 on third downs, with six conversions on Guidugli passes and five going to receiver Hannibal Thomas, who finished with 162 yards. Co-defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said Guidugli was good enough to confound the Bulls no matter what they threw at him.
"We tried a lot of different coverages, tried to pressure him a lot of different ways, and it just didn't work for us tonight," he said. "We make too many mental errors. Young kids can screw up real badly, and that showed. When we had the chance to make big plays, we didn't. It's been that kind of year so far."
The game started promisingly for the Bulls, as junior Andre Hall had runs of 46 and 60 yards on the first two drives. But USF netted only three points from those possessions as backup kicker Justin Geisler, filling in for an injured Santiago Gramatica, missed a 48-yard field goal, then connected from 44.
When Hall scored on a 4-yard run late in the first, USF led 10-7, but Cincinnati rallied for 10 quick points. Late in the half, the Bulls' Bruce Gipson downed a punt inside the Bearcats 1, and two plays later Craig Kobel recovered a fumble in the end zone to tie it with 2:21 left in the half.
Cincinnati answered with a drive that was pure Guidugli. He went 5-of-5, passing for 80 yards in 56 seconds and taking a 24-17 lead on a 49-yard pass to Bill Poland. It started a run of 28 points for Cincinnati before a Nippert Stadium crowd of 19,309.
And as accurate as Guidugli was, USF's Pat Julmiste was nearly as inaccurate. In one stretch, he completed 2 of 14 passes for 2 yards, and nearly half of his 143 yards came on one harmless fourth-quarter drive. While he struggled, the Bulls abandoned the running game that had allowed them to dominate the opening quarter.
Hall, who had nine carries for 124 yards in the first quarter, got just seven rushes the rest of the game, and USF was outgained 134 in the final three quarters.
"I was very surprised, but I figured the coaches had a great game plan, so I wasn't too verbal. I was just sort of surprised," said Hall, who now has USF's season rushing record with 1,138 yards. "You have to keep your head up."
As for Guidugli, who leads C-USA with 24 touchdown passes, he now takes the Bearcats into a showdown with conference leader Louisville. Cincinnati coach Mark Dantonio, whose team has a four-game win streak, said his quarterback's name is one many people should know by now.
"He's a gamer. If there's a better quarterback, I haven't seen him," he said. "That includes anyone I saw in the Big Ten last season as well. The guy's playing tremendously for us right now. He's pretty amazing."