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Terrible Thursday: USF falls to Pitt in primetime matchup

Posted Sep 30, 2011 by Adam Adkins

Updated Sep 30, 2011 at 12:53 AM

PITTSBURGH Another Thursday night nationally televised game for the University of South Florida. Another forgettable Bulls performance.

Pittsburgh’s offense had its way against the Bulls defense, racking up 523 total yards (307 rushing), and USF’s offense couldn’t muster a score in the second half as the 16th-ranked Bulls were throttled, 44-17, in front of an announced crowd of 40,025 at Heinz Field in the Big East Conference opener for both teams.

The loss snapped the Bulls’ four-game win streak to open the season and their streak of five consecutive wins away from home. The loss also extended the program’s streak of futility in Thursday night primetime games on ESPN, with the Bulls dropping to 0-7 all-time, and it also extended USF’s losing streak to Pittsburgh to four.

Running back Ray Graham, who entered as the Big East’s leading rusher, ran for a game-high 226 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries and helped Pittsburgh’s offense string together a streak of six scoring drives in seven possessions during one stretch, with the only non-scoring drive coming when the Panthers had just 26 seconds to work with right before halftime.

“He’s a big player. He’s one of the best I’ve seen in a long time,” said defensive coordinator Mark Snyder. “We knew he was special coming into the game.”

USF’s offense had a decent showing in the first half, totaling 233 yards and two touchdowns, but it was another story after the break. The Bulls managed 202 yards in the second half while committing two turnovers and having another drive end with a turnover on downs.

It was certainly not the way USF coach Skip Holtz hoped his team would enter its longest break of the regular season. USF is off until an Oct. 15 matchup at Connecticut.

“It was not one of our better efforts,” Holtz said. “We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to shore up.”

USF (4-1, 0-1) was able to strike first Thursday thanks to a little help from the defense, which recovered a fumble to snuff out Pittsburgh’s first offensive series and set the offense up with good field position. Daniels engineered a nine-play, 52-yard scoring drive and capped it with a 12-yard touchdown run to the put the Bulls ahead 7-0 at the 8:46 mark.

Pittsburgh’s offense started rolling from there. After getting the tying score on the ensuing drive when quarterback Tino Sunseri scored on a 9-yard run, the Panthers (3-2, 1-0) put together consecutive drives that resulted in Kevin Harper field goals to take a 13-7 lead with 12:00 minutes left in the second quarter.

USF was able to respond with a big scoring drive of its own to go back in front, going 80 yards in 13 plays, 11 of them rushing. Junior running back Demetris Murray did most of the damage, running for 36 yards on the drive and capping it with a 7-yard scoring run that gave the Bulls a 14-13 lead with 6:57 before halftime.

Pittsburgh, however, marched right back down the field with a fourth consecutive scoring drive to take a 20-14 lead. The Panthers covered 82 yards in 14 plays, with Graham capping a big first half with a 13-yard scoring run. Graham had 102 rushing yards at the break.

With 1:43 still on the clock, USF was able to put together one last scoring drive to enter halftime down just three. Daniels found receiver Sterling Griffin on a 42-yard pass play, and Maikon Bonani hit a a 34-yard field goal to make it 20-17.

After racking up 273 yards in the first half, Pittsburgh went right back to work in the second. The Panthers defense forced a three-and-out on USF’s opening possession, and Sunseri immediately guided a nine-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Hubie Graham. It was much of the same on the next possession for the Panthers, who marched 66 yards in nine plays to extend their lead to, 34-17, on a 2-yard touchdown run by running back Zach Brown with 4:55 left in the third.

Meanwhile, USF’s offense continued to sputter. On the drive following Brown’s score, USF’s offense faced fourth-and-2 at the Pitt 37 and opted to go for it. Daniels was subsequently dropped for a 12-yard loss.

Graham accounted for the Panthers’ final touchdown, capping a 69-yard drive that took just four plays with an 8-yard scoring run, his second of the night, with 11:29 to play. Harper added a pair of late field goals, both following USF turnovers, to push Pitt’s point total to 44, the most scored against a Holtz-led USF team.

“Ray Graham is an outstanding player. He came out and played his game tonight,” Bulls junior linebacker Sam Barrington said. “Whenever we’re facing a player of that caliber we’ve got to come out and do a better job of containing him.

“We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to do better. That was not our style of football. That was not USF’s defense that was out there tonight.”

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