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USF Bulls

USF losses following very familiar script

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 06:33 PM
TAMPA -

Defeats are falling into the same pattern. Game-altering mistakes. Crushing penalties. Defensive lapses. A slow-starting offense that catches fire in the second half, but falls short.

For the University of South Florida Bulls football team, there is always a postgame pledge of no surrender.

That hasn't altered, either.

After USF's 27-25 defeat at unbeaten Louisville on Saturday, the Bulls (2-5, 0-3 Big East Conference) have virtually no margin of error. Postseason talk might seem ridiculous considering USF's record-setting five-game losing streak, but players are keeping that hope alive.

As the Bulls prepare for Saturday night's homecoming game against the Syracuse Orange (3-4, 2-1), a revitalized program with its own goal of rallying for a bowl game, USF players are determined to keep fighting.

"I still don't believe we're going to tank it,'' USF senior quarterback B.J. Daniels said. "We have weathered them (difficult times) plain and simple. We still believe in this team and these coaches.''

It's no longer the disappointment of underachievement for a team picked second in the Big East preseason poll.

Now it's finding a way to win a game – any game. After failing to produce an upset of a ranked opponent, which could've given Skip Holtz some slight breathing room, the Bulls have dropped 11 of their last 12 Big East games.

"We'll win,'' USF senior linebacker Sam Barrington said.

But when?

The Bulls have home games against Syracuse and Connecticut, then trips to Miami and Cincinnati, before the Raymond James Stadium finale against Pittsburgh.

"You just have to keep grinding away,'' USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. "It's not a good answer for you, not a flashy answer, but that's all you can do.

"At the end of the day, something good is going to come out of it for these kids. They've been through too many tough times. They've worked hard with great attitudes and work ethic. I've got to believe at the end of the day they're going to get some kind of reward out of it.''

The Bulls haven't won since Sept. 8 at Nevada. Three times during its losing streak, USF has taken a late fourth-quarter lead or tied the game, only to see its defense fail to produce the necessary game-clinching stop.

"Everybody is feeling that hurt, no matter what side of the ball you're on,'' sophomore wide receiver Andre Davis said.

"It's a tough loss for all of us together,'' junior defensive end Tevin Mims said. "But as a defense, of course, you want to close it out.''

Had USF's defense found a way to accomplish that on Louisville's final drive, an eight-play, 75-yard march that culminated in Teddy Bridgewater's 11-yard winning score to Eli Rogers with 1:35 remaining, some pressure would be diffused. Had USF's offense been more efficient in its last effort, when clock management skills were lacking, perhaps place-kicker Maikon Bonani would've been positioned to win the game.

Instead, it devolved into just another defeat. It's becoming difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Now the Bulls have consecutive home games against sub-.500 Big East opponents, a stretch that could define the direction of Holtz's era at USF.

"There's never a day when we're coming to practice and everybody's like, 'Oh, I don't want to be here,' " Barrington said. "Perseverance is a key word for this team. We're 2-5 right now. But this is the best attitude 2-5 team I've ever seen. That's the thing you've got to appreciate the most.''


jjohnston@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7353 Twitter: JJohnstonTrib

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