I know what some of you are thinking. "But we played a good game! We almost beat a ranked team on the road!"
First of all, "almost beat" someone is stupid. This isn't some little FCS school who isn't expected to hang in there with the big boys. Second of all, USF should have won. Louisville was BEGGING to lose this game. They have no killer instinct whatsoever (buyer beware on Charlie Strong) and they went through the motions for long stretches of the game. I came away from this game thinking they are horribly overrated.
You're right about one thing, though. The Bulls did play a good enough game to win. They kept the mistakes to a minimum. The offense was very good in the second half. The team played a good enough game to get the win and maybe send their season in a new direction.
Instead, Skip Holtz, the man who made a big deal about rewarding "productivity and effort" out of his players during the bye week, made more awful decisions than all of his players did combined, and very possibly took that chance to win the game away from them. These are just the latest in a string of bad in-game decisions that, combined with the structural problems with the team and the dwindling talent level, leave me thinking that it's time to find another coach for USF football.
Let's break them all down and see if we can figure out what on earth Skip was thinking:
BAD DECISION #1: Waiting until 26 seconds left in the first half to start using timeouts.
There was a much more obvious clock meltdown later on, but this one was pretty bad too. USF was backed up deep after an ill-advised kickoff return out of the end zone, and then a penalty. The Bulls started driving the ball with three and a half minutes to go until halftime. I understand not wanting to start calling timeouts right away. And Louisville had all their timeouts too, so you don't want to sputter and let them call theirs to get the ball back, especially when you already trail 14-3, and Louisville gets the ball to start the second half.
Still, there was a point at which timeouts should have been spent, and it was right here:
1st-10, SFLA35 1:30 B. Daniels passed to D. Welch to the right for 5 yard gain
It'll be 2nd and 5 at your own 40. Now you have a realistic chance of getting points. Hopefully seven points, but at least three. And if you get stopped right there and punt it away, Louisville has to go 70 or 80 yards in a minute or less to score back at you. This is where you should call your first timeout. Instead, we get FOUR more plays before Skip finally calls one.
2nd-5, SFLA40 1:10 B. Daniels incomplete pass to the left
3rd-5, SFLA40 1:01 B. Daniels passed to S. Price to the right for 8 yard gain
1st-10, SFLA48 0:44 B. Daniels incomplete pass to the left
2nd-10, SFLA48 0:38 B. Daniels passed to D. Hopkins to the left for 21 yard gain
Finally the Bulls call a timeout with 26 seconds left in the half. Now, it didn't matter because on the next play, five Bulls couldn't block three Cardinals (and one of them slipped and fell and took himself out of the pass rush, so really two Cardinals) and B.J. Daniels was sacked and lost a fumble. But still, you've pretty much boxed yourself out of scoring a touchdown before halftime with bad clock management. Skip does this all the time at the end of first halves. He's like a 15-year-old learning to drive a car who doesn't know how hard he has to step on the gas pedal to get the car to move.
BAD DECISION #2: Whatever happened at the goal line in the third quarter.
There's some disagreement on exactly which part of this was bad. Collin (and probably a lot of other people) were mad at the whole thing, that they had three cracks from inside the 1-yard line to score and didn't get there and didn't try anything other than running between the tackles. I was more annoyed with the play call on fourth down. Let's revisit that one.
Inches from the goal line, USF lined up in the full house backfield, and the outside two running backs shifted up right behind the offensive line. Daniels took the snap, slid left, and dove into the end zone, but the play was blown dead because a Louisville defender came across and made contact with Quinterrius Eatmon, the right tackle. Half the distance to the goal, try it again. The Bulls line up in the same formation, make the same pre-snap shift, and run the same play. This time it gets stuffed and USF turns it over on downs.
Could you have made it any more obvious what play you were going to run there? Once the two backs shifted up again, the entire stadium had to know they were going to run the same play that had just been blown dead. Sure enough, that's what USF did, and Louisville was ready for it. Preston Brown read it and dove over the line of scrimmage to kill the play himself. Daniels didn't get all that close to the end zone. Not even close enough to review the play.
Then, very helpfully, Skip starts talking to Jeff Hawkins as the team comes off the field. Because Hawkins was totally responsible for that failure, being two or three guys away from where Daniels tried to run it, and having blocked his guy into the end zone.
PREVIOUS INSTANCES OF THIS MELTDOWN: None this bad, but the UConn game in 2010 and the Miami game in 2010 (the series where Daniels got hurt) are in the discussion.
BAD DECISION #3: Trying to kick an extra point after scoring a touchdown to make it 21-16 with eight minutes left.
I've made this handy graphic illustrating the first-grade math Skip clearly didn't understand at that point in the game:
Put aside what actually happened after that. This is not a results-based evaluation - it should always be about the process. Do you really think that, with eight minutes left, you can be assured of getting the ball back and scoring another touchdown? This isn't a Baylor or Louisiana Tech game. There aren't going to be 6 or 7 more possessions. Kicking the extra point was, bar none, the worst decision I have ever seen a USF football coach make during a game. And then Skip got bailed out because Louisville was offside, putting the ball at the 1 1/2-yard line. Only then did USF go for two, and get it.
Why does Skip need outside forces to get him to make a decision that any rational person would have made the first time? ANY COACH would go for two in that spot. Well, maybe not Andy Reid or Raheem Morris, but that just means Skip can join that illustrious company.
It wasn't just us saying it was a horrible decision:
Awed in the press box by the initial decision to kick a PAT after that touchdown. UofL penalty spared a very poor coaching decision.— Michael Manganello (@MikeManganello) October 20, 2012
PREVIOUS INSTANCES OF THIS MELTDOWN: If we're talking about having to be given another chance to make an obvious decision, then the Louisville game last year where Skip was going to punt on 4th and 3 from the Cardinals 35-yard line. The Cards called a timeout (maybe because they were so shocked that USF would do something that dumb), and even then, instead of doing things straight up and running a play, the Bulls decided to pull a fast one. They broke out of the sideline huddle real fast, snapped the ball on the first indicator while Louisville was still trying to get set, and Bobby Eveld threw a touchdown pass to Lindsey Lamar.
If we're talking about bad situational awareness, then the Nevada game this year when Skip punted with 7:07 to go in the game from the Nevada 47 while trailing 31-20, and having given up nearly 500 yards of offense to the Wolf Pack.
(These are also both examples of why you should never evaluate based on results. Process, process, process.)
BAD DECISION #4: Spending your last timeout with 37 seconds to go after a first down had already stopped the clock to move the chains.
Not much to discuss on this decision. It made no sense then, and it still doesn't make any sense now. And besides, they ended up wasting whatever time they saved because after Daniels threw a pass to Andre Davis for another first down, which the officials had to measure, the Bulls didn't seem to be aware that the clock would start once the chains were set. The referee even came up to tell Daniels what was going to happen and he immediately waved everyone towards the line of scrimmage. But they still wasted seven seconds before they snapped the ball.
PREVIOUS INSTANCES OF THIS MELTDOWN: Maybe the Pittsburgh game in 2010, where Skip didn't use his timeouts correctly and then they got all messed up trying to run a two-minute drill, and everyone wasn't on the same page when Daniels was trying to spike the ball, and they had to blow their last timeout for no reason.
This doesn't even get into the other cross-ups and miscommunications and just plain bad ideas. Like when no one realized Matt Floyd had come into the game against FSU and the Bulls gave away a touchdown on a fumble. Or the idea of redshirting Lindsey Lamar and now he's your best running back, after he had been a wide receiver for two years and no one seemed sure how to use him. Or hiring Chris Cosh to run your defense and paying him significantly more money than Mark Snyder. (Who here didn't feel like the Cards were going to go right down the field and score after USF took the lead? And after today's fumble recovery, the USF defense has now forced one turnover in the last five games.) Or trying to play close games like you're in the NFL and you can depend on college kids to execute reliably at the end of the game. Or watching all of Jim Leavitt's recruits leave and not being adequately able to fill the holes with your own kids -- with a few exceptions, particularly Andre Davis, who is a baller.
There's also a growing engagement problem in the community. One of the recurring themes in the GameThread was that USF football lacks enthusiasm and passion right now, and it seems to stem from Skip's personality and ripples all the way through the fan base, if not the team itself. I met a USF colleague for dinner on Friday and used the word "diffident" to describe the feeling we both get from Skip. Mostly it's the last definition of the word that applies, but I think the first one applies some as well. Skip sounds so flustered and beaten down in some of the answers to his questions after games when the team has come up just short for the umpteenth time. His voice trails off, he can't quite answer the questions, and you know it's taking a mental toll on him.
You could say a lot of things about Leavitt's teams, but they were never diffident. People post on Facebook and on message boards that they want Leavitt back, but I think they really want the attitude and the charisma back. The underdog, chip-on-our-shoulder mentality fed the whole fan base and brought everyone back for more, even after the most brutal losses. That sort of attitude doesn't exist on Skip's teams -- even when they were ranked last season, it didn't feel the same. This program can't run on its own energy yet. It hasn't been around long enough or been successful enough. It still needs someone out in front to rev the fans' engines. Instead, we get diffidence.
I always said that if Skip Holtz didn't work out as USF's head coach, I would feel like it was too bad it didn't work because he's such a nice enough person. Well... too bad it didn't work, Skip, because you're a nice enough person. Maybe you're just out of your depth at this level, or you were incredibly unlucky. But personally, I think it's time for both of us to move on.
(You know, if USF can afford it... and thanks again for that, Doug! At least Woolard won't get any of his football bonuses on top of his near-exorbitant salary this year.)