The South Florida Bulls are lucky they haven't had too many truly painful losses in their 14 1/2 seasons of football. Part of that is because they either win a game with something on the line, or they've long since rendered the game meaningless by taking themselves out of contention, or they get whipped so badly that it's more eye-opening than painful (see also: Pittsburgh game two weeks ago).
But when you line them up against the Connecticut Huskies, some sort of malevolent force comes over the game and causes USF to lose in the most horrible way you can imagine. Even though the Bulls have been the more talented team in possibly all six of their Big East meetings, USF is only 2-4 in those games. Those four losses have been some of the toughest Bulls fans have ever had to stomach. So if you have the fortitude to come back in time with me, let's see what made those games so rough. We'll go in reverse order, which is convenient because the pain and suffering increases the further back you go.
2010 - CONNECTICUT 19, USF 16
True freshman quarterback Bobby Eveld started for the Bulls with B.J. Daniels unable to play with a foot injury. In his first and so far only collegiate start, Eveld struggled for most of the game. He threw three interceptions, including one that the Huskies' Lawrence Wilson returned for UConn's only touchdown. After Dave Teggart kicked a 50-yard field goal to give UConn a 16-6 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Bulls punted it right back to the Huskies and they set out to drain some more clock (which they had been doing the entire second half, in true Randy Edsall fashion).
Then Craig Marshall forced a fumble by Jordan Todman and Sam Barrington recovered. Two plays later, Eveld found Dontavia Bogan on a slant, and Bogan split the safeties for a 28-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 16-13. The Huskies pinned the Bulls deep with a punt, but Eveld drove USF downfield again, all the way to the UConn 5-yard line with 1:40 left to play. After a run on first and goal was stopped, the Bulls dialed up two fade routes in a row, even though Eveld, a catcher at Jesuit High School was best suited for fitting passes into tight spots. Even worse, they were thrown at Bogan instead of sure-handed, 6'3" Evan Landi, who could have outjumped any cornerback for the ball. The passes both flew out of bounds incomplete, and the Bulls had to settle for a Maikon Bonani field goal to tie the game at 16.
USF still had a chance to force overtime, where they have never lost a game. But stocky Robbie Frey pushed his way to the UConn 40-yard line on the ensuing kickoff. Zach Frazer somehow completed two passes to get the Huskies to the edge of field goal range, but he almost threw the game away on 3rd and 3. Mistral Raymond jumped in front of a quick out to wide receiver Kashif Moore, but the pass bounced off his hands and incomplete. If Raymond held on to the ball, he would have had an easy interception for a game-winning touchdown. Instead, Teggart came on and hit a 52-yard field goal for the winning points.
This game would not have been so bad if not for the games you'll see further down the list. But on its own, the game wasn't that important. It didn't make any difference in where USF ended up going bowling, and all it did was prevent West Virginia from being the team to get stomped in the Fiesta Bowl instead of UConn. Personally, I took this loss with quiet dignity and grace.
Oh... yeah, never mind.
2009 - CONNECTICUT 29, USF 27
Remember when the ACC championship was held in Tampa in 2008 and 2009? Well, that forced the Bulls on the road to end both seasons, and that included a trip to cold, snowy East Hartford in December. As often happened against equal or inferior opponents during the last few years of the Jim Leavitt era, USF came out flat and unable to slow down the Huskies. They fell behind 20-7 in the middle of the third quarter, but then B.J. Daniels got cranked up. Following a kickoff return to near midfield, Daniels went on a rampage that lasted the rest of the game. A big pass play to Jessie Hester put the ball at the 10-yard line, and two plays later Daniels ran it in for a score.
UConn drove down the field again, but the Bulls blocked Teggart's field goal attempt. Daniels came back out on offense and moved the ball almost by himself, scoring on a 27-yard touchdown run to give USF a 21-20 lead. The Huskies answered with another touchdown to retake the lead at 26-21 (they missed a two-point conversion), but left the Bulls plenty of time to answer again. Daniels once again carried USF on his back, running for one first down and just barely getting a 20-yard pass to Carlton Mitchell on 4th and 2 to move the ball to the Huskies' 8-yard line.
Let's stop here for a second. I put a lot of emphasis on how a coach manages the clock. There's only so much a coach can control his players, but clock management is 100% their responsibility. A coach who screws up the clock probably screws up many other things, and ultimately leads to their demise. I just wanted to state that for the record before I tore into Leavitt for possibly the worst game management of his USF career.
First, he had Daniels spike the ball, completely wasting a down when they needed to score a touchdown. There was a full minute left on the clock after the chains moved, and USF still had one timeout. Not only that, but it saved time for the Huskies that should have been running off while the Bulls got their act together. Daniels' pass for Hester on second down was incomplete. Then on third and goal, Daniels scrambled around in the pocket and then took off for a spectacular 8-yard touchdown run to give USF a 27-26 lead with just 40 seconds to play. (Although it should have been much less time, seeing as they spiked the ball for no reason.) After calling their last timeout, USF's two-point conversion was no good.
Then Leavitt made another terrible decision. He had Eric Schwartz squib kick to a UConn team that still had all three timeouts and who had moved the ball well all night long. Jordan Todman returned the short kick to the Huskies' 44-yard line, and UConn easily moved the ball into field goal range for Teggart, who hit a 42-yard field goal on the final play.
This loss didn't cost the Bulls a championship or anything, but it might have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. A win likely would have put them in an attractive bowl matchup against South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham. USF playing a Steve Spurrier-coached SEC team would have been an easy ticket-selling pitch and they could have brought thousands of fans with them. Instead, UConn played the Gamecocks while the Bulls were forced into the worst possible scenario -- the International Bowl in Toronto against Northern Illinois, the day after New Year's and in a city USF fans needed a passport to visit. Only a few hundred fans made the trip, and it was surely a financial disaster after accounting for travel and ticket guarantees.
2007 - CONNECTICUT 22, USF 15
This was the week after the Bulls' horrendous loss to Rutgers when they had been ranked #2 in the country. Still ranked 11th, USF went up to East Hartford to play a game in rainy, windy conditions better suited for an episode of Deadliest Catch. Once again, the Bulls didn't show up to play in the first half. Delbert Alvarado missed two field goals, including a 26-yard chip shot. Leavitt wimped out and had USF punt the ball on 4th and 2 from the Huskies' 39-yard line. Matt Grothe threw an interception that Scott Lutrus returned for a touchdown. It was the worst 30 minutes of football the Bulls played during the regular season, and they trailed 16-0 at halftime.
USF got their act together out of the locker room, but another wimpy punt (on 4th and 3 from the UConn 39) stopped their first drive. When they got the ball back, they drove all the way to the Huskies' 4-yard line, but Grothe threw an interception in the end zone to keep the score 16-0... temporarily. The Bulls sacked Tyler Lorenzen on consecutive plays, then blocked a punt out of the end zone for their first points of the day. They took the free kick and Grothe covered all 63 yards himself on the ground, running it in from 10 yards out to cut the lead to 16-9.
The teams traded field goals to make the score 19-12. Then the Bulls drove downfield again, all the way to the UConn 2. But a touchdown run was called back by a holding penalty, and then Cedric Hill dropped a pass in the end zone on third and goal. Unable to tie the game, USF settled for an Alvarado field goal and a 19-15 deficit. UConn got a big play to start their next drive and threatened to put the game out of reach, but the Bulls held at the goal line and forced another Huskies field goal.
USF had one last drive to try and force overtime. Grothe made most of the plays on a 61-yard march, including a fourth-down conversion on a pass to Carlton Mitchell. After a Huskies penalty and a Grothe run, the Bulls had second and goal just one yard from the end zone. But instead of trying to hammer the ball into the end zone with Mike Ford, who was built for such work, USF ran Moise Plancher for no gain. Then on third down, the Bulls called a naked bootleg for Grothe. But Greg Robinson, Jr. stayed at home and dropped Grothe for an 11-yard loss, and his fourth down pass flew out of the end zone.
This game killed any chance of USF winning the Big East, and probably did as much damage to their national reputation as the loss at Rutgers had the week before. It was viewed as a major upset -- UConn's first-ever win over a ranked team, and the loss was so self-inflicted that the Bulls lost a lot of the credibility they had built up in their 6-0 start that season.
2005 - CONNECTICUT 15, USF 10
This is the game that named our blog. Voodoo 5 was quite simply the worst play call in USF history -- a fourth-and-goal reverse pass that bombed so badly that you knew it was going to fail before it even started. I've already written all about this game as part of our introduction when we joined SB Nation, so I'll clip some of it to explain how this game came down.
November 26, 2005. They said the kickoff temperature at Rentschler Field in East Hartford was 33 degrees, but people who were there all swear it was a lot colder than that once the sun went down. At the time, it was the coldest game in USF history.
Connecticut has always been an interesting foil for the Bulls. USF is athletic, wide-open, and often undisciplined. Under Randy Edsall, UConn can't match many teams with sheer talent, but they play smart, close-to-the-vest football, and never beat themselves. This game was no exception. Lou Allen broke off a 60-yard touchdown run right out of the gate to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead. They added a safety later in the first quarter to increase the lead to 9-0. After a Pat Julmiste to S.J. Green touchdown pass in the second quarter, Darius Butler ran the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown to make the score 15-7.
With Connecticut stacking the line to stop the run, USF was forced to turn to its weak passing game, and mistakes piled up. Julmiste threw interceptions on consecutive drives. Julmiste and Amarri Jackson each lost fumbles. In all, the Bulls would turn the ball over five times in the game. But in between all that, Kyle Bronson hit a 42-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut the Huskies' lead to 15-10 and keep USF in range.
Meanwhile, UConn's offense bogged down completely in the second half, gaining only 62 yards. The hard-hitting game took its toll. Field position began to turn in USF's favor, and eventually Jackson ran a UConn punt all the way back to the Huskies' 8-yard line with 7:40 left in the game. The stage was set to steal another win and set up a showdown with the Mountaineers for an inexplicable BCS berth.
On first and goal, Andre Hall rushed for a yard. On second and goal, Julmiste ran for six more, to the Huskies' 1-yard line. Surely the Bulls, built to run the football that year, would punch it in and take the lead. But for some reason they tried to run a quick count and false started, backing them up to the 6. Now forced to pass, Julmiste threw incomplete on third down.
Instead of taking the field goal, USF decided to go for it on fourth and goal. A surprised Huskies defense called a timeout, and that gave Jim Leavitt and Rod Smith time to make a fateful decision.
They decided on Voodoo 5.
Courtney Denson lined up as a wide receiver on the left side. The Bulls' backup QB had no catches on the year and had barely played since early in the season. It was glaringly obvious why he was out there. He might as well have had a sign around his neck that said I AM NO THREAT AS A RECEIVER AND I MIGHT BE PART OF A TRICK PLAY. IF I GET THE BALL YOU SHOULD RUN AT ME AT FULL SPEED.
Julmiste took the snap and pitched to Andre Hall, then began fading right towards the end zone. Hall ran to the left side and reverse pitched to Denson, coming back across the middle.
Voodoo 5 didn't fool anyone. Denson looked to pass, but Julmiste was covered, and there was no other option. Chased by UConn's Dan Davis, Denson started running for his life and was hauled down at the 19. Loss of 13. Turnover on downs.
That remains the biggest monkey-wrench defeat in the history of USF football. The season had set up for the Bulls to win their last five games and steal a Big East title in their first year in the league. But after winning the first three, they tripped over the low hurdle named Connecticut in horrific fashion.
So if you're watching the game this Saturday and things start to get tight, and that feeling of nausea and deja vu starts to come over you again... well, you know what they say about people who fail to learn from history.