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Cincinnati 37, USF 34: "I Was Not Willing To Roll The Dice"

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I don't think Skip Holtz is going to be very happy with that quote as time goes on. We'll get to that incident later, but that quote is going to overshadow all the good things he and his staff did during the game and in the week leading up to it.

Almost everything that bothered people about last week's game -- the timid playcalling, the reactive defense -- was different today. B.J. Daniels had the first 400-yard passing game in USF history, and none of them were garbage yards. Cincinnati really sold out against the run, leaving them vulnerable to play action and throws down the field. And again, we weren't asking for ten deep balls, just some throws past the first-down marker or in spaces where guys could catch and run. That's exactly what we got. Last week I was extremely unconfident that USF could pull off a game-winning drive. This week it felt like it was inevitable, and lo and behold the Bulls raced down the field for what looked like it would be the winning touchdown.

I especially want to call out Victor Marc, who just goes out there and does anything the coaches ask him to do. And also Deonte Welch, who was fantastic today with five catches for 130 yards and a ton of YAC. He must have had 9 or 10 targets in the passing game. If Sterling Griffin is going to miss extended time with that unfortunate ankle injury, Welch's emergence would be a big help.

Then on defense, Isaiah Pead only ran for 79 yards on 22 carries and lost a fumble. Last week the Bulls really sat back in their run defense and waited for Lyle McCombs to come to them. McCombs ended up running for 130 yards and was a big reason UConn won the game. This week the Bulls brought linebackers and safeties in to help shoot the gaps and keep Pead from breaking too many big plays. The downside, of course, is that you give up passing plays if you guess wrong, and Zach Collaros had a huge day, too. But that's an acceptable risk. Pead is the Bearcats' best offensive player, and it's good strategy to make sure he doesn't beat you. Even though Collaros threw some absolutely terrible passes, including one of the most hilarious interceptions you'll ever see, he ended up rising to the occasion.

If USF had lost the game just because Cincinnati had the ball last and made one more play than they did, this wouldn't have been so bad. Yes, 0-3 is still 0-3, but it would have felt a little different. But there were so many unforced errors, including the one that Skip's quote is referring to.

The Bulls had second and goal at the Cincinnati 2-yard line with 28 seconds left in the half, holding one timeout. Daniels ran a quarterback draw, but was stopped for no gain. Instead of calling their last timeout when the play ended (with about 24 seconds left) and planning a throw into the end zone, Holtz let the clock run all the way down to three seconds and then called their last timeout, forcing Maikon Bonani to kick a short field goal. That decision made the home crowd about as upset as I can ever remember. There was loud, sustained booing once Holtz finally called the timeout. Then after the game, when the topic came up in his press conference, he said "I was not willing to roll the dice." Then he explained he didn't want to take a sack and wanted to make sure they got points before halftime.

Wait... that's rolling the dice? Running a play on third and goal from the Bearcat 2 with 24 seconds left? Suppose Daniels actually does take a sack there. You would still have, let's say 18 or 19 seconds to rush the field goal unit out there and get the snap off before the clock runs out. We saw the Bucs fail to do this a couple of weeks ago with, I think it was 15 seconds when Josh Freeman got sacked. But 19 seconds is enough time to pull it off. Even if they didn't make it, at least you took another chance at scoring a touchdown. It's counterintuitive, but I would have felt better with no points if that had happened than I did with running out the clock and kicking a field goal, because at least they would have gone down swinging.

And that leads back to the one thing that wasn't changed from last week and hasn't changed all season: The handcuffing of Daniels down by the goal line has reached absurd proportions. Of course they weren't willing to roll the dice. They haven't "rolled the dice" with him there all year. What is it going to take to let Daniels throw something other than a fade in a goal-to-go situation? (They did have one quick pass on first down in that end-of-half sequence. Cincinnati made a great play to break it up.) Yes, a back-shoulder fade to Andre Davis gave USF the lead late in the game, but it's a bit different coming from the 15-yard line. Daniels just threw for 400 yards and took full command of the offense once you (correctly) gave up on the run. All things considered, it might have been his best game ever as a passer. They must take the training wheels off of him by the goal line.

Of course, there were new things wrong this week, especially the foolish and undisciplined penalties. That's what I think annoyed fans the most -- it was like watching a game from the previous coach's tenure with all the personal fouls. Admittedly they weren't all completely legitimate; in fact the referees on the whole made themselves far too much of a presence in this game. But when you have five of them, you can't blame referees. They also had killer special-teams mistakes and penalties, and two touchdowns wiped off the board by holding calls on a single drive. All those turned a loss where you could have felt fairly good about their effort into a carbon copy of all the bad, wheels-flying-off, season-killing losses of years past.

You could sense the surliness of the crowd even through the TV. I don't think it's ever been this bad before, and I think it goes beyond just this game or this season or this coaching staff or even this sport. People are just plain fed up now. They're wondering, "If we aren't good at football, then what are we good at? What does USF athletics do at a level that's worth my time and money?" The diehards like us, we're always going to be around. For the casual fans around town, though... this might have been the breaking point with them. It could be a long time before they're willing to buy what USF is selling them. And that's a huge problem. But more on that later.