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A quick burst of points again flattens Bulls

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PITTSBURGH - Such was the excitement and optimism entering Saturday's game that USF president Judy Genshaft issued a bold promise: If the Bulls went undefeated through their first season in the Big East, she'd cancel classes for a day to celebrate.

Sorry, students and professors. The Bulls took Saturday off instead.

Staked to a 10-0 early lead, USF gave up 21 points in a span of six minutes in the second quarter, digging themselves a familiar hole on the road in a frustrating 31-17 loss at Pittsburgh that should quiet any BCS talk for a while.

"I thought we played horrible," coach Jim Leavitt said after his Bulls lost their fifth road game in a row. "I want to give Pittsburgh credit because you always do that. But I didn't think we played a very good football game. I'm very disappointed. There's really no excuse today. None."

As was the case in road losses at Miami and Penn State, the Bulls committed two turnovers deep in their territory, the worst plays in a rough day for the USF offense.

"We never were in synch, never were going, never had the things flowing like we need to get going," Leavitt said. "We have to get our offense in gear. That's two games in a row where we've really turned the ball over, had some penalties, had subpar performances. That's unacceptable. It's not where we want to take this thing."

After a promising 3-1 start, the Bulls (3-3, 1-1) have stumbled badly while the Panthers (3-4, 2-1) seem fully recovered from a humbling 0-3 start to their season. The same could be said of Saturday's game.

A blocked punt in the first quarter by linebacker Ben Moffitt set up USF on the Pittsburgh 4-yard line, and quarterback Pat Julmiste scored on a 1-yard run for a 7-0 lead. Pittsburgh's Tyler Palko fumbled three plays later and USF recovered on the Pittsburgh 27. The Bulls settled for a Kyle Bronson field goal.

Pittsburgh took over on the first play of the second quarter, with Chamberlain grad Greg Lee - who beat the Bulls for three touchdowns in last year's game - catching a screen pass and running untouched 69 yards for a touchdown. After a fumble by USF's Ricky Ponton, Palko and Lee hooked up for a 41-yard gain to the 3, and Palko found Tim Murphy for a 3-yard score and a 14-10 lead.

Julmiste fumbled on the next play to give the Panthers another short field from the USF 12. It took four plays from the 1-yard line, but Pittsburgh scored on a Palko keeper for a 21-10 lead.

USF answered on a 76-yard touchdown pass from Julmiste to Andre Hall, who finished with 210 total yards including 135 on seven catches, to cut the lead to 21-17. The Bulls wouldn't score again.

"I felt pretty confident about this game," Hall said. "We came out pretty good, had a 10-point lead on those guys. We just kind of slowed down and rolled over."

USF was within 24-17 late in the third when Leavitt, having not crossed midfield in two second-half possessions, turned to backup quarterback Courtney Denson, who promptly put the game away by throwing an interception that led to a Pitt score.

"After a few turnovers, dropping the ball, what would anybody do? That wasn't a hard decision," Leavitt said. "Courtney can't come in and do what he did either."

Julmiste returned, finishing with 58 rushing yards and a season-high 222 yards through the air, but 22 of his 35 pass attempts came in the fourth quarter, when USF trailed by two touchdowns. He was 8-of-12 passing for 133 yards when he was pulled but didn't argue with Leavitt's decision.

"I won't go against Coach's judgment putting Courtney in," he said. "Obviously he saw that when I was in, we didn't get anything going. He tried to get a spark with Courtney, and that's no surprise to me. I don't want to accept it, but by the same token, it's just the way it is around here. Coach expects perfect play out of his quarterbacks, and if you're not giving perfect play, he's looking to somebody else to find that."

Losses at Penn State and Miami have been easier for Leavitt to swallow, because he held their defenses in high regard. The wasted opportunity Saturday had him about as upset as his players could remember.

"I've seen him pretty upset," Hall said. "The worst time I've seen him was at Cincinnati last year. This was pretty close. I can't blame him. I feel the same."


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