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Bulls try to escape their own horror film

10/29/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

As of Monday afternoon, George Selvie hadn't watched any tape of South Florida's 41-14 humiliation at Pitt, and he didn't plan on looking at it, either.

"We didn't just get beat, we got whooped," the Bulls' defensive end said. "I'm not going to watch it. I was disgusted."

Selvie and the rest of his teammates already know the plot of that film. You know, the one where the hero starts off strong and gets killed in the middle.

Or at least that's been the Bulls' story arc now for three straight years. And like most sequels, they've upped the gore in the latest installment.

Though South Florida has struggled in October before, rarely has it been so thoroughly dominated defensively. After allowing just 47 points in the first five games, the Bulls gave up 75 in losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Those two teams combined for 887 yards of offense.

True, the Bulls have faced the top two scoring teams in the Big East the past two times out. But the third highest scoring offense comes to Tampa on Friday night, when No. 21 West Virginia (6-1, 2-0 Big East) tries to continue South Florida's month of misery.

"It all comes down to pride," Selvie said. "You can't let people win over you like that. We've got to come together as a defense and see what our problem is."

The defensive problems have started up front. The Bulls' defensive line, so dominant earlier in the season, hit a roadblock in the form of the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh protection schemes. Pitt in particular used a lot of help to stop Selvie and Jason-Pierre Paul, leaving in tight ends and a fullback to block while making sure to get rid of the ball quickly. But even when they had solo blockers, Selvie and Pierre-Paul did no damage.

"There's no excuse for not getting a pass rush, because we're a pass-rushing defensive line," Selvie said. "When we don't, that makes it hard on our DBs and our linebackers."

The Bulls' corners tried to play press coverage at times against Pitt and got burned. Teams have also been able to run the ball right at the defense, which is never a good sign when Noel Devine is on deck.

Defensive coordinator Joe Tresey lamented that his unit gave up too many explosive plays and committed too many penalties against Pittsburgh. Curiously, the defense also seemed to lack its usual passion.

"We just never got going," Tresey said. "Our energy level and enthusiasm has got to pick up."

The Bulls talked in the preseason about how their only goal was to win the Big East. Now, barring a highly unlikely chain of events, that dream is already dead. Instead, they're back to answering questions about yet another midseason swoon.

"It's very frustrating," senior receiver Jessie Hester said. "I've been here five years, and it's been like that every year. I feel like we have lots of talent and most of the time, we beat ourselves.

"We still haven't had a 10-win season yet, and so that's still in reach. But we can't lose any more games."

If South Florida can't get back on track against West Virginia, especially defensively, it will produce another film that none of the Bulls want to see.

"We've been through this before," Selvie said. "We've got to stop it right now before it gets really bad."