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USF's tough loss gets tougher

Leavitt takes another look at the final play, says a penalty should have been called.

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 5, 2007


TAMPA - Perhaps feeling the emotional burden his players now carry after losing three straight games, USF coach Jim Leavitt stressed his sympathy and admiration for his players Sunday, after a school-record eight turnovers in a frustrating 38-33 loss to Cincinnati.

"It hurts you because you hurt for them. You know they fight so hard," Leavitt said Sunday. "The spirit of this team is pretty special, to go through what they're going through and keep fighting."

Ranked No. 2 in the nation before their three losses, USF (6-3, 1-3) fell out of both major polls Sunday, as well as the BCS standings. The Bulls, who are 3-6 in conference road games since joining the Big East in 2005, must collect themselves as they travel this week to Syracuse, which has the league's worst record at 2-7.

"There were too many miscues. That's a good defense Cincinnati has," said Leavitt, whose team set a school record for turnovers, not counting a blocked punt recovered for a Bearcats touchdown. "I thought we battled our tail off, and I knew it would come down to the last play."

Leavitt said Saturday that if his heart would break if there actually was pass interference on that last play, an incomplete pass from Matt Grothe to Jessie Hester in the back of the end zone. Watching the play again Sunday didn't make the loss easier for Leavitt.

"There was interference. I don't think there's any question," Leavitt said. "(Linebacker Anthony Williams) grabs his hand and pushes him out the back of the end zone. He's not even looking at the ball.

" I asked Jessie, and he said 'I couldn't get my hand up for the catch because he grabbed my wrist.' "

After giving up 17 of Cincinnati's record 31 first-quarter points, USF's defense buckled down, holding the Bearcats to zero points and 106 total yards in the second half. That is what defensive coordinator Wally Burnham will stress to his players as they prepare for Syracuse.

"I'm as proud of that group as any I've ever been associated with, and I've coached a few years," Burnham said. "They never gave in. The things they overcame, things that were just about impossible, they kept fighting and fighting.

"What can you say about a bunch of kids that just fight their hearts out? I'm not proud of the loss. It hurts, and it hurts those kids."

USF played Saturday without two starting receivers in Taurus Johnson and Amarri Jackson, and Leavitt said he's not planning on either returning for Saturday's game, though he wouldn't rule that out. Freshman Dontavia Bogan also was sidelined by a hip pointer during Saturday's game, but returned in a limited capacity.

How USF compares

How teams ranked No. 2 in the first BCS standings each year have finished. USF is the first of those to fall out of the Top 15. Note: The final BCS standings are done before the start of bowl season:

Year Team Finish

1998 Ohio St. 4

1999 Penn St. 11

2000 Oklahoma 1

2001 Nebraska 2

2002 Miami 1

2003 Miami 9

2004 Miami 14

2005 Texas 2

2006 USC 5

2007 USF ?