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Bulls sag to trio of trip ups
USF commits eight turnovers on its way to losing for the third consecutive game.
By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 4, 2007
TAMPA - The end was close enough to be heartbreaking, but for USF, the beginning was so record-setting bad you couldn't believe the game could come down to a single play, an official's no-call in the end zone.
USF dug another huge hole and nearly climbed out, but the Bulls saw their homecoming spoiled by a third straight loss to an unranked team, 38-33 to Cincinnati on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bulls are left little else but a hollow bowl trip to play for. National rankings? Gone. Contention for a Big East crown? Not this year. The No.20 Bulls lost all of that, much the same way they coughed up a school-record eight turnovers. In three weeks, in three close losses, they have gone from No.2 in the nation to sharing the conference cellar with Syracuse.
"Too many mistakes," coach Jim Leavitt said. "There's no excuse really, at all. We didn't play good enough to win. ... You just can't turn the ball over that many times and expect to win. It's amazing that we were in it with the turnovers that we had."
Indeed, the Bulls (6-3, 1-3), down 11 with three minutes to play, got a late touchdown, then got to the Cincy 18-yard line and had two catchable passes in the end zone in the final eight seconds.
Had Matt Grothe's final pass found Jessie Hester in the end zone, it would have been an amazing rally, but it fell incomplete, with no flag despite contact by Cincinnati's Anthony Williams.
"I will be so broken up, my heart would break if I look at this play and there's interference," Leavitt said. "I'm sure they made the right call. ... I don't know. Goodness gracious, that was close."
Grothe finished with a school-record 382 passing yards, but he had five of USF's eight turnovers, tying another record with four interceptions. For the second game in a row, one was returned for a touchdown. Still, he led the Bulls with 75 rushing yards, accounting for 95 percent of the offense's 481 yards.
"I am as proud of Matt as you can be," Leavitt said. "The guy's a battler, and I'm going to battle with him forever. I love the guy."
It was a promising start for the Bulls, with Trae Williams returning an interception 73 yards for a touchdown and Mike Jenkins taking a kickoff 100 yards for a 14-7 lead.
"I thought at the time it would set the tone for the game, but obviously, it didn't," Williams said.
Cincinnati (7-2, 2-2) fired off 24 points in a seven-minute span, recovering a blocked punt in the end zone, returning a Grothe interception 79 yards for another score, then scoring on one of three touchdown passes from quarterback Ben Mauk.
Just as USF trailed Connecticut 16-0 at halftime last week, the Bulls were down 38-20 to the Bearcats. The defense shut Cincinnati out in the second half, but again, a rally started too late and came up agonizingly short.
Consider the mistakes in the fourth quarter alone: Marcus Edwards muffed a punt on his 16-yard line, and Grothe's fourth interception set up Cincinnati on the USF 31; another pick was called back on replay. The Bearcats missed one field goal, then had another blocked by George Selvie.
Grothe's touchdown to Jessie Hester with 2:04 remaining cut the lead to 38-33 - a two-point conversion was intercepted, which didn't even count as one of the turnovers. USF failed to recover an onside kick, yet still got a chance with 29 seconds left. after the Bearcats failed on a fake field goal.
Grothe completed passes of 20 and 24 yards, putting USF on the 18-yard line with 0:08 left. Carlton Mitchell nearly came down with a touchdown catch before the final shot to Hester.
A third loss, with two of three remaining games on the road, means USF's bowl future is likely in Charlotte, N.C., or Birmingham, Ala., where they've gone after each of the past two seasons. This time, the Bulls will go there knowing they could have done something more with their season.
"It's real difficult for us right now," Jenkins said. "Right now, we're just playing for pride."
No. 20 USF 33
15 Minutes of infamy
USF's first quarter Saturday against Cincinnati saw the Bulls give up 31 points - nine more than in any of the previous 484 quarters in USF history. USF hadn't allowed 31 points in a game this season, so the Bulls found themselves down 14 despite scoring 17 points, good for their second-best quarter of the year. What hurt the Bulls most was a run of 21 Bearcats points in 4:15, with one touchdown each from Cincy's offense, defense and special teams.
6:18 left: USF's first offensive drive results in a three-and-out, and Delbert Alvarado's punt is blocked and recovered in the end zone by Antwuan Giddens. 17-14, Cincy.
3:57 left: As USF drives deep into Bearcats territory, Mike Mickens picks off Matt Grothe and takes it 79 yards for a score. 24-14, Cincy.
2:03 left: Jamar Taylor's fumble sets up the Bearcats on the USF 31, and Ben Mauk hits Dominick Goodman for a 16-yard touchdown. 31-14, Cincy.