The Panthers (4-7 overall, 2-4 in the Big East) scored on their second possession and led 14-10 at halftime, but it could have been much more. Pitt gave up a big run on a fake punt, which led to a USF touchdown, and was stopped short on its own fake field goal try. Also, quarterback Pat Bostick threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. A third pick was run back to the 1, but the Bulls (9-3, 4-3) eventually plowed in from there.
The Panthers were also called for nine penalties for 78 yards, including three straight holding calls that delayed an eventual touchdown in the second half. Kickoff specialist Cody Sawhill attempted three straight onside kicks late in the game, and USF recovered each one easily.
Pittsburgh closes out Coach Dave Wannstedt's third straight bowl-less season Saturday at West Virginia. The game will start at either 7:45 or 8 p.m. Wannstedt is 15-19 overall and 8-12 in Big East play at Pitt.
"It was disappointing, the way the game unfolded,'' Wannstedt said. "I really thought that we were focused to start the game, and I thought we were focused at halftime. Then, we went out in the second half and gave up the one play on defense and then offensively came totally unglued.
"In the second half, the penalties came in, we rushed for 15 yards total and throw three interceptions for touchdowns. Really, that's what it came down to. ... The big plays, we just did not finish the game. I don't think anybody thought it would be easy, but we ... had some mental mistakes.''
There were several bright spots for the Panthers in a game that quickly got out of hand after USF quarterback Matt Grothe bolted 80 yards for a touchdown on the opening play in the second half to give the Bulls the lead. Redshirt junior middle linebacker Scott McKillop recorded a career-best 18 tackles, including 14 solo with three stops behind the line, forced one fumble and had a quarterback hit. McKillop leads the nation with 13 per game.
"It's not good enough,'' McKillop said when asked about his performance. "That's myself and the team. We needed to play better to win the game.''
Tailback LeSean McCoy ran 18 times for just 55 yards, but he scored three more touchdowns and has 14 rushing touchdowns this season. That breaks Tony Dorsett's freshman mark at Pitt that he set in 1973. McCoy also had a season-high six catches for 83 yards with a 45-yarder to the 12. He scored Pitt's first touchdown five plays later from the 1.
"I guess it's good to break a record that was previously held by one of the greatest running backs ever,'' McCoy said. "It hasn't really hit me, but I think it will eventually. ... (But) it's tough to feel good about breaking the freshman touchdown record right now when you lose the game.''
Pitt also got solid contributions from Cedric McGee and Maurice Williams in the passing game. McGee had two catches for 14 yards, while Williams made a spectacular 37-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter. He had a five-yard scoring catch nullified due to a penalty in the second half and ran a reverse for 20 yards early in the game.
"It was very exciting to be so involved in the offense,'' Williams said. "Sure, everybody would like to get more passes, but I know my place on this team. I just hope to get more opportunities next season.''
McGee and Williams became more prevalent in Pitt's offense after tight end Nate Byham went down with a knee injury in the first half. He needed helped from the field and was on crutches afterward. Wannstedt said that he'll have an MRI today, and his status will be determined after that.
Pitt had USF stopped near midfield on its second series, but a 29-yard run on a fake punt moved the ball into the red zone and the Bulls scored two plays later. USF fumbled early in the second, and Pitt drove to the 12. Three plays netted seven yards, and Conor Lee lined up for a 22-yard field goal. The Panthers tried a fake as well, but fullback Conredge Collins was stopped a yard short at the 3.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Kevan Smith (right shoulder) was unavailable to back up Bostick due to his injury last week at Rutgers. Smith didn't take a snap all week, Wannstedt said, and couldn't throw the deep ball in warmups. Presumably, freshman wideout Maurice Williams would have played quarterback had Bostick been injured against USF.
Notes: Bostick was 24-for-37 for 298 yards and two TDs with three sacks and three picks. ... T.J. Porter had seven catches for 74 yards. ... Lowell Robinson had six kickoff returns for 169 yards with a long of 55 yards. ... The Panthers had five sacks and 10 stops behind the line. ... DE Joe Clermond had two sacks and a fumble recovery. ... The attendance was 31,123.