Thursdays remain unkind to Bulls
PITTSBURGH - Skip Holtz claimed this week to be unaware of the University of South Florida's previous struggles in nationally televised Thursday night games, but the stretch of futility over the past four seasons has been documented enough that 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 entered its Big East Conference opener at Pittsburgh with an 0-6 record on ESPN Thursday night games. Five of those losses came when the Bulls were ranked nationally, and four were to unranked opponents. The trend continued Thursday night with Pittsburgh's 44-17 defeat at Heinz Field, No. 16 USF's first loss of the season.The Bulls (4-1) did their best to avoid dwelling on the past while preparing on a short week for the unranked Panthers (3-2). "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 before the game. "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 seized the opportunity, yet. The first loss in the streak, in 2007, was arguably the toughest to swallow. The Bulls started 6-0 and climbed to No. 2 in the rankings entering an October showdown at Rutgers, but they 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 a fake field goal, the latter resulting in a touchdown pass. There also was the memorable ruling of an illegal forward pass that wiped out a Bulls touchdown return after Tyrone McKenzie blocked a Scarlet Knights field goal. A pair of Thursday losses came in 2008. In an early-October home matchup with Pittsburgh, Panthers running back LeSean McCoy rushing for 142 yards and two scores, including the 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, as Bearcats quarterback Tony Pike threw for 281 yards and two scores and Bulls quarterback Matt Grothe threw three interceptions. The Bulls lost twice more on Thursday in 2009. In a matchup of nationally-ranked teams at Raymond James Stadium in 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 No. 8 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 once on Thursday, a mid-October trip to West Virginia. Daniels threw three interceptions, including one in the final minute of the first half that led to a Mountaineers touchdown in a 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 (one). Obviously this is a new game. Every game is a new day for us. There's a new opportunity."
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