South Florida head coach Skip Holtz looks at Syracuse and sees a mirror reflection.
There are several parallel story lines among the two teams as USF (4-4, 0-4 Big East) heads up to New York to play the Orange (5-4, 1-3) on Friday.
“Syracuse is a lot like we are,” Holtz said during his weekly teleconference on Monday. “They’re a couple of plays from sitting here talking about being undefeated.”
Although the Bulls are currently winless in the Big East, they have been competitive in every game, including a 20-17 loss against Rutgers.
South Florida looked to be on its way to its first Big East win of the season, leading 17-3 midway through the fourth quarter.
But its special teams failed them as Rutgers receiver Jeremy Deering cut the lead to 17-10 on a 98-yard return. Rutgers then tied the game shortly after with an 80-yard, 12 play drive.
Still, South Florida had a chance to win it regulation.
But Maikon Bonani badly missed a 27-yard field goal and Rutgers responded in overtime with a field goal to hand USF to another Big East loss.
“It was just a heart-breaker for our players,” Holtz said. “The difference in the game was special teams. In a close football game like that, you can’t give them 10 points on special teams.”
Like USF, Syracuse’s special teams struggled in SU’s 28-21 loss to Connecticut.
Punter Jonathan Fisher averaged just 33 yards on his five punts. Kicker Ross Krautman missed his only field goal attempt of the game, booted a kickoff out of bounds and kicked short several other times, allowing dangerous return man Nick Williams to amass 123 yards on three returns.
And, like USF, the Orange has been struggling lately, having lost two straight since SU’s impressive 49-23 win over then-No. 11 West Virginia.
“We’ve lost two games in a row,” Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone said following the loss to Connecticut. “That’s the first time we’ve done that this year. We have to come and bounce back.”
It’s an unfamiliar feeling for USF, as well.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been this close and this frustrated,” Holtz said. “We’ve been so close and we haven’t been able to close the door.”
That has left Holtz and his team searching for answers.
“There isn’t a secret pep talk you can give them,” Holtz said. “The only way I know to get out of it is to tighten the circle, keep going out there and working, and try to correct the things that are costing us football games.”Wesley Cheng