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Thursday’s have not been kind for USF

Posted Sep 29, 2011 by Adam Adkins

Updated Sep 29, 2011 at 01:48 PM

Skip Holtz claimed this week to be unaware of the University of South Florida’s previous struggles in Thursday night nationally televised games, but the stretch of futility over the past four seasons has been documented enough that it’s safe to say the Bulls second-year head coach was in the minority.

“I knew that (question) was going to come around sooner or later, that Thursday night thing,” junior quarterback B.J. Daniels said.

USF enters its Big East Conference opener at Pittsburgh with an 0-6 record on ESPN Thursday night games. Five of those losses have come when the Bulls have been ranked nationally, and in four of those the setbacks have come against unranked opponents.

But the No. 16 Bulls (4-0) were doing their best to avoid dwelling on the past while preparing on a short week for the unranked Panthers (2-2).

“You try not to pay attention to the whole Thursday night, they haven’t been so well, kind of like a curse or whatever you want to call it,” junior linebacker Mike Lanaris said. “I feel like this team embraces any opportunity to go do something and play a great ball game and get a win.”

The Bulls just haven’t capitalized on that opportunity yet.

The first loss in the streak, coming during the 2007 season, was arguably the toughest to swallow. The Bulls started that year 6-0 and had climbed to No. 2 in the nation entering a showdown at Rutgers that October but walked off the field with a 30-27 loss to the unranked Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers running back Ray Rice had a huge game with 189 rushing yards and quarterback Mike Teel threw two touchdown passes, but the game is best remembered for the plays on special teams. Rutgers executed a fake punt and fake field goal, the latter of which resulted in a touchdown pass, and there was the memorable illegal forward pass ruling during a Bulls return after Tyrone McKenzie blocked a Scarlet Knights field goal that wiped out a USF touchdown.

A pair of Thursday losses followed in the 2008 season. In an early-October home matchup with Pittsburgh, Panthers running back LeSean McCoy rushing for 142 yards and two scores, including the game-winning touchdown with 4:43 remaining, to lift unranked Pitt to a 26-21 triumph over the 10th-ranked Bulls. Later that month USF traveled to Cincinnati and lost, 24-10, watching Bearcats quarterback Tony Pike throw for 281 yards and two scores and Bulls quarterback Matt Grothe throw three interceptions.

The Bulls lost twice more on Thursday in 2009. In a matchup of nationally-ranked teams at Raymond James Stadium that October, Cincinnati backup quarterback Zach Collaros came off the bench in place of an injured Pike and ran for 132 yards and two second-half scores, including a back-breaking 75-yarder in the third quarter, to propel the eighth-ranked Bearcats to a 34-17 victory over No. 21 USF. Four weeks later the 23rd-ranked Bulls traveled to Rutgers and were smashed by the unranked Scarlet Knights, 31-0, still the only time the program has been shut out during a regular-season game.

Last season, USF played just once on Thursday, a mid-October trip to No. 25 West Virginia. Daniels threw three interceptions, including one in the final minute of the first half that led to a Mountaineers touchdown, in an eventual 20-6 loss.

“I wouldn’t say it’s (we’re) jinxed,” senior safety Jerrell Young said. “We lost the games. I don’t believe in bad luck. If it happens it happens for a reason.”

Senior offensive lineman Chaz Hine agreed.

“In those situations, we’ve just been outplayed. We didn’t play as well as we should have and didn’t win. That’s obviously a straight forward answer,” Hine said. “We’re not taking last year’s Thursday game or the previous Thursday games and projecting them on this Thursday. Obviously this is a new game. Every game is a new day for us. There’s a new opportunity.”

Holtz wasn’t concerned with the program’s previous shortcomings on Thursdays, pointing out that this is a new year and a new team.

“This team hasn’t played on Thursday night yet,” Holtz said. “What’s happened in the past is irrelevant. Where we’re going in the future is irrelevant. It’s going to be what goes on between the lines, and what is our focus like and how do we play on this game on Thursday night.”

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