TAMPA - USF ran 77 offensive plays for 431 yards Saturday, but three times the Bulls tried to convert on fourth and 1 and couldn't get a yard.
The biggest failure was on the Memphis goal line late in the third quarter. USF running back Andre Hall took a pitch to the left but was met in the backfield.
"That was the worst one of all," said Hall, who totaled 134 rushing yards. "It's like you work all week and get fired and you don't get paid. It's like having something going and then it just stopped. It hurts bad. If I had gotten in, who knows what could have happened after that."
The Bulls cut their deficit to nine on a 1-yard run by quarterback Pat Julmiste with 3:54 left in the third quarter.
Four plays later, Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams broke off a 51-yard touchdown run to go up 23-7 with 2:10 remaining in the quarter.
The Bulls countered by driving from their 20-yard line to the Memphis 1.
On fourth and 1, the Bulls lined up with a reverse called. But with Memphis apparently prepared to defend that play, Julmiste said he changed the call. With the Bulls set to run the fifth play of the fourth quarter, receiver Jackie Chambers called a timeout just before the ball was snapped and running back Clenton Crossley crossed the goal line. After the timeout, USF tried a pitch to Hall but he had nowhere to run.
"As soon as you get the pitch they were right there in your face," Hall said. "It was real bad. I'm like, "What am I going to do now? What am I supposed to do now?' "
The Bulls, who entered No. 1 in Conference USA on fourth-down conversions (6-for-8), already had been stopped twice on fourth and 1.
The first came on USF's opening drive. Hall was stuffed on a play Julmiste said he called to run the wrong direction, ending an eight-play drive in Tigers territory. Memphis capitalized by kicking a 47-yard field goal.
In the third quarter, USF had good field position after a 15-yard Memphis punt. On fourth and 1 from the Memphis 27, a tight end missed a block, according to Julmiste, and Hall was stopped again.
"After each one they were telling me a guy missed this block or that block and those kind of things," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "I thought they were big plays. You convert a fourth down and you keep things going."