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USF Bulls

Bulls eager to regroup after first defeat

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 01:00 AM

The University of South Florida's 44-17 loss Thursday night at Pittsburgh was, as coach Skip Holtz so eloquently phrased it, "an old-fashioned tail-whupping."

It was another humbling defeat in a nationally televised primetime matchup on ESPN, dropping the program's mark to 0-7 all-time on that stage. It was a tough loss to swallow, and one that could drop the 16th-ranked Bulls right out of the next Top 25 poll.

It was not, however, the end of the season.

While it was not the way the Bulls hoped to enter a bye week and their longest stretch of rest in the regular season, players and coaches kept things in perspective after making their way from the visitor's locker room at Heinz Field.

"This is one game," Holtz said. "I hate to lose a conference game, but sitting here 4-1 going into the open date, we've got to keep our heads up. We've got to get back to work, we've got to look at the film, we've got to find out what the problems were and we've got to get them corrected as a staff."

Dropping their opening Big East Conference game means the margin for error going forward will be minimal, but fans shouldn't be ready to throw in the towel on championship hopes for the Bulls yet.

In the last five years, only one team in the Big East has gone undefeated in league play (Cincinnati in 2009), and in two of those years (2007 and 2010) the conference champion finished with two losses. Just last season, the Bulls dropped their first two league games but were still in the conference title race until late in the season.

There are some problem areas for this team, most notably on defense. The unit has allowed 500-plus yards in each of the two toughest games this season, at Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.

The Panthers shook off a turnover on their opening series and were relatively flawless from there, keeping drives alive with key third-down conversions (9-for-15 on the night) and finishing perfect in red-zone scoring chances (5-for-5), ending each drive that reached inside USF's 20 with a touchdown.

Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said after the game that the extended break would give him the chance to take a long look at his unit and figure out what the liabilities are. Bulls defensive players seemed eager to iron out the kinks.

"I think having this bye week is really good for us, because next week we're going to go out there and work," junior linebacker Mike Lanaris said. "We're probably going to be in full pads three or four days, so I'm glad we have this bye week to get things corrected and kind of get our feet underneath us and see where we need to make some changes as a defense and as a team."

The Bulls will turn and try to make the most of their extended break. USF returns to the field Oct. 15 at Connecticut.

"At the end of the day, this could be a blessing in disguise," junior quarterback B.J. Daniels said. "This could be an extra motivating factor for the rest of the season."

Bulls bits

Senior receiver A.J. Love (right ankle) left the game in the first half and did not return, but Holtz did not know the severity of the injury immediately after the game. … Sophomore receiver Sterling Griffin (five receptions, 109 yards) became the first Bulls player to top 100 yards receiving in a game since Love did so in a 2009 matchup with Louisville.

aadkins@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7616