University of South Florida coach Skip Holtz was explaining his frustration over the Bulls' 23-13 loss against Rutgers in Thursday night's Big East Conference opener. His rapid vocal delivery slowed down for emphasis and he tapped the podium on each word.
"If … we … want … to … have … any … chance … at … all … we … cannot … turn … the … ball … over."
Bulls senior quarterback B.J. Daniels was 15 of 33 for 242 yards, but had three interceptions, including two that popped high off the hands of his receivers – and they proved costly.
Meanwhile, after USF's defense forced a three-and-out to begin the second half, Bulls punt returner Terrence Mitchell had the ball pulled out of his hands near the sideline by Rutgers senior Marcus Cooper. The abrupt change in possession, giving Rutgers the ball at USF's 37-yard line, allowed the Scarlet Knights to hit a game-tying field goal.
It wasn't a turnover, but Holtz also was upset about a fourth-and-1 play from the Rutgers 28 in the second quarter. Daniels, trying a quarterback sneak against a stacked Rutgers front, couldn't get good footing and tried to slither through an opening on the right side, but was stuffed for no gain.
"We've got so many guys playing so hard and we keep turning the ball over,'' Holtz said. You feel like you've got to keep fighting your way out of a hole that we keep creating for ourselves.''
Daniels was forced into a one-dimensional approach because of USF's inability to run (29 carries, 95 yards).
"The ball clearly didn't bounce our way,'' Daniels said.
He refused to blame mistakes on fatigue or potential lack of focus from a short week. USF won 32-31 at Nevada on Saturday and had a long trip home from the West Coast.
All of USF's mistakes either led to Rutgers points or prevented a USF score.
The third interception was particularly crushing. On second-and-goal from the Rutgers 5, Daniels looked for senior tight end Evan Landi on a quick slant. The ball went off Landi's hands and Rutgers' Wayne Warren snagged it in the end zone.
"It looked like a bang-bang play and it looked like (Landi) got both hands on it,'' Holtz said. "We talk about if you can't catch it, you bat it down. It doesn't go through (your hands). Incomplete pass, we're fine. It can't knock up in the air. We can't do those things.''
USF (2-1, 0-1), which has lost nine of its past 10 Big East games dating to Holtz's first season in 2010, can't immediately make amends for its third consecutive defeat in a conference opener. The Bulls travel to Ball State on Sept. 22 and face a high-profile home game against Florida State on Sept. 29 before jumping back into Big East play at Temple on Oct. 6.
"We won together last week and we lost together (against Rutgers),'' USF senior linebacker Sam Barrington said. "We've got to keep our nose down and keep playing. We're going to stay together the rest of the season.''