Alan Dell

Commentary | Staying close to Florida St. might feel good to USF, but it's still a loss


Skip Holtz addressed the media as if he had just won a game.

That is the state of football right now at USF. Victories are not determined by the final numbers on the scoreboard. They are measured by how you feel.

And Holtz looked as if he felt pretty good Saturday after his team dropped a 30-17 decision to Florida State at Raymond James Stadium.

It's not surprising because the other numbers surrounding Holtz, including a six-year contract extension he received after a 5-7 season last year, are embarrassing.

He is 15-15 at USF, which is the good part.

He has lost 10 of 11 home games against BCS opponents and in his last game, a 31-27 loss to Ball State, he snapped a 26-game win streak USF had against non-BCS schools since it joined the Big East in 2005.

Oh, did we mention the Bulls are one of less than a handful of teams in the country that doesn't have an interception.

So that's why perhaps Holtz spoke like a winner, though his team suffered its third loss of the season in five games.

USF played hard, which we knew the Bulls would do against the fourth-ranked team in the country. They stayed in the fight and looked to have a chance to win.

But in the end they lost.

It wasn't as painful as

losses earlier this season to Rutgers and Ball State because the Bulls did not blow a lead.

The mark of a good team, a well-coached team, is that it doesn't make mistakes. Bill Parcells once said teams don't win close games because they are lucky. It's because they are well-prepared.

Good teams seem to find a way to win and stay away from killer plays.

Holtz has lost more than his share of close games since coming to USF.

Again, so much was put on the shoulders of quarterback B.J. Daniels. He courageously kept the Bulls in the game, but it's hard to do it alone.

Daniels was intercepted at the FSU 45 with about 60 seconds to go in the second quarter and FSU holding on to a slim 10-3 lead.

The Seminoles converted it into 43-yard field goal three seconds before halftime.

If there was a killer, it came at the end of the third quarter with FSU leading 23-10. Daniels got his bell rung and had to come out for a play.

Matt Floyd replaced him. He was sacked for an 11 yard loss and fumbled the ball, which Christian Jones picked up and ran 12 yards for a touchdown.

When asked why a pass play was called in that situation Holtz said there was a problem with his headset and a communication breakdown. It led to what was perhaps the wrong play call by offensive coordinator Todd Fitch.

"Coach Fitch wasn't sure if B.J. was in or out and called the play. Hindsight is easy," Holtz said. "But if we chip the end like we did all day we would've been allright. He came free off the edge. But I am proud of our kids. It's unfortunate. Maybe there are a lot of naysayers out there and they only see the end result."

Holtz said he is hoping this close loss that wasn't so close might be a springboard for better things to come as the Bulls get into the meat of their Big East schedule.

That was supposed to happen this year after USF won only one Big East game last year. But the Bulls dropped a close one to Rutgers earlier this season making many of the same mistakes they had committed last year.

The Bulls struggled with their passing game. Daniels was solid running out of trouble and picking up a net 72 yards rushing to lead the team. He was 17 for 33 for 143 yards and wasn't able to hit the big pass plays that were so effective in USF's comeback win over Nevada earlier this season.

"If we can play like that every week we have a chance to be a pretty good team. We are a work in progress, but got better as a football team tonight," Holtz said. "The difference was in the second half they brought an extra safety down in the box and played a man free and we were not able to win in the passing game. In the second half we had some opportunities and just couldn't hit them."

The story might be different, but it's the same ending.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.