The mistake that cost UC the game occurred midway through the first quarter. The Bearcats had it 2nd-and-goal at the 5-yard-line when Zach Collaros got sacked for a 15-yard loss when it looked like he plenty of time to throw the ball away. The Bearcats had to settle for a field goal and the sequence breathed early life into the entire USF team.
Then again, maybe the killer gaffe happened in the second quarter when the Bearcats were on the verge of digging out of an 11-point hole and tying the game. Bones Barnett - who had a sensational night - made a great catch-and-run for a 69-yard gain, but stepped out of bounds at the 4-yard-line as he attempted to launch himself into the end zone. Barnett was not forced out by a Bulls defender. Had he focused on staying in bounds he probably would have scored a touchdown.
But now that I think of it, the Bearcats most costly error took place moments later. UC botched a 1st-and-goal opportunity at the 4-yard-line when Armon Binns dropped a pass that hit him in the chest in the end zone. For the second time, the Bearcats had to settle for 3 points when they should have scored 7. In other words, UC left 4 points on the board on two separate occasions in the first half - an 8-point swing that turned out to be USF's margin of victory.
You get the point.
More than any UC game in recent memory, I thought the Bearcats cost themselves a victory with self-inflicted wounds. The 'Cats committed 12 penalties for 115 yards, allowed the Bulls to convert 7 of 12 third down opportunities, and dropped a bunch of passes - including the throw by Chazz Anderson that went through the fingertips of D.J. Woods on the next-to-last play of the game. It could have given the Bearcats the opportunity for a game-tying 2-point conversion.
"We put ourselves in position at the end of the game to at least try to get it into overtime, but we made way too many mistakes," head coach Butch Jones said. "Too many blown coverages - all of their big plays were set up by blown coverages. Too many penalties on offense . . . way too many dropped balls. Not to take anything away from
If the offense can cut down on the mistakes, the Bearcats will score on anyone in the Big East. The defense, on the other hand, has struggled in the first two league games, and the 'Cats desperately have to find a way to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Through 7 games, UC ranks next-to-last in the Big East in sacks, and dead last in forcing turnovers. The two go hand-in-hand: Pressure on the quarterback produces fumbles (especially on blind side hits), and less time to throw means more bad passes and/or decisions that lead to interceptions.
The silver lining in Friday's defeat is the fact that the Bearcats fell to a team that already has two losses in Big East play. Just like 2008, if UC wins the rest of its league games, the 'Cats will capture their third straight Big East championship.
"We've been though adversity and everybody has doubted us for the entire year," Coach Jones said. "We have good character people in our football program who have a passion for each other and football. So we'll go back to work, learn from this, and move on."
I'm not predicting that the Bearcats are going to win the Big East. But it would be a mistake to count them out.
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