For 16 days, the University of South Florida Bulls had a dreadful 27-point defeat at the hands of Pittsburgh sitting in the pit of their stomachs.
Instead of finding a remedy for the feeling in their first time back on the field Saturday afternoon at Connecticut, the Bulls returned to Tampa feeling worse.
USF's misery at Rentschler Field continued with a 16-10 loss to a Huskies team that had lost four of its previous five games. The setback moved the Bulls to 0-4 all-time in Connecticut's home stadium, but even worse in regard to this season, it put USF (4-2) at 0-2 in Big East Conference play.
"This is an extremely frustrating loss," linebacker Mike Lanaris said. "These 16 days, we were really looking forward to coming out here and giving UConn a great shot and coming away with a victory, and we couldn't do that."
The Bulls were plagued by mistakes and missed opportunities against Connecticut (3-4, 1-1), most notably turnovers and penalties. USF had season highs in both categories with four turnovers and nine penalties for 89 yards.
"We made too many mistakes to win a close football game," USF coach Skip Holtz said. "We had our opportunities. We just couldn't make the most of it."
The Bulls' offense struggled to mount any kind of consistency. Both scoring drives came on the opening possession of each half, and five USF drives that went inside the Huskies 35-yard line resulted in zero points.
USF's defense had a much better showing than its last time out, limiting Connecticut's offense to 253 total yards and three field goals while producing a school record-tying seven sacks and two turnovers, but there were chances for even better results.
"We had our hands on three or four (balls). We had a chance at five or six turnovers tonight, and we didn't make it happen," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "There's an opportunity for us to contribute to a win, and we just didn't get it done. Period."
However, the turnovers — particularly the two fumbles — proved the most costly.
The first occurred on the opening play of the second quarter. Following a 79-yard kickoff return by Marcus Shaw, the Bulls had a second-and-goal from the UConn 7 when quarterback B.J. Daniels' attempted option pitch to Joel Miller ended up on the turf and was recovered by the Huskies.
"We took away a great opportunity," Holtz said. "It's like getting all the way down the field on a kick return, and all the sudden you say we have points on the board, and bang, the ball's on the ground and the defense is up."
The second came midway through the third quarter. USF was backed up to its 9 after a penalty when running back Darrell Scott fumbled after a hit by UConn defensive tackle Tywon Martin. Defensive back Byron Jones picked up the loose ball and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown, putting the Huskies in front, 16-10.
"You just can't put the ball on the ground," Scott said. "So I'll put that on me and say I basically lost the game for us."
Still, the Bulls had a chance to get a winning score at the end when they drove to UConn's 30 and had a first down with less than three minutes left. Three plays later, though, USF was staring at a fourth-and-7. The Bulls got the matchup they wanted with man coverage, but Daniels' pass to receiver Sterling Griffin (five receptions, 63 yards) was low, forcing Griffin to dive for the catch. Griffin ended up 4 yards shy of moving the chains and keeping the drive alive.
"It was a man-beater, and we had him come free. Sterling was popping free. We were anticipating man, they had played a lot of man in the second half, fourth quarter, and we caught them in man and had a little man route called," offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. "We thought we had a chance to maybe spring him there but didn't get it off."
Added Daniels, who finished 15-for-27 passing for 164 yards and accounted for the Bulls' only touchdown with a 22-yard scoring run in the third quarter: "A couple inches higher, hit him near the chest, he has an opportunity to run and get that first down."
Instead, the Bulls returned home after another tough loss, one in which their own miscues were the prevailing theme.
"We have tons of talent, and we keep telling ourselves that, but we keep doing things to shoot ourselves in the foot," center Chaz Hine said. "We had several penalties tonight, I had one myself, a holding. If we could just get rid of the stupid mistakes, we'd be in such better position to be playing. So we've got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. As soon as we do that we'll be able to take care of a lot more."