Who needs to win more -- USF or Syracuse?
The Bulls (4-4, 0-4) have not won a game since Sept. 24. Syracuse (5-4, 1-3) has dropped two straight after blowing out West Virginia last month. The two teams face each other Friday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2 with an air of desperation hanging between them. For USF, the season began with a victory over Notre Dame and so much promise.
But in Big East play, breakdowns across all three phases of the game have hurt them. So have untimely penalties and an inability to hold onto second-half leads. USF has started off fast, but finished slowly. So now it is a matter of trying to put everything together to get a badly needed win.
"It's tough. We're trying hard and playing hard, but we're not getting the results we want," USF safety Jerrell Young said in a phone interview. "When you look at it, we could be 7-1 right now, but we're 4-4. We're just not getting the ball to bounce our way. Some weeks the offense doesn't show up, some weeks the defense doesn't show up. We haven't been able to put it all together yet. That's the thing that hurts the most. We're not doing the little things right."
USF has held second-half leads in its past three Big East contests. Particularly galling was what happened last week against Rutgers. The Bulls allowed the Scarlet Knights to rally with seven minutes remaining after holding a 17-3 lead. Rutgers scored on a kickoff return for a touchdown, and Maikon Bonani missed a short field goal that would have won it for the Bulls at the end of regulation. USF played inspired on defense, holding Rutgers to minus-7 yards.
The current four-game skid led center Chaz Hine to call a players-only meeting earlier this week, in which he told his teammates it was time to put an entire game together. USF needs to win two of its final four to become bowl eligible, but already it has guaranteed itself a losing conference record for the fourth straight season.
"We're trying to figure out how we're at this point," Young said. "We're talented, but that doesn't mean we're going to win games. Nobody is putting their head down, though. We can't just say this season's over. We still have four games to play. That's a lot of football. One thing I always say: It's November. How do you want to be remembered?"
Syracuse has had its own issues in its two-game losing streak. The offense has been inconsistent, particularly because the ground game has come to a halt. Quarterback Ryan Nassib has not been as accurate with his passes, either, and teams are teeing off on him. Nassib has been sacked seven times in the past two games, compared with 12 in the first seven.
Though both teams have struggled of late, coach Doug Marrone says he does not think either team is desperate.
"We're going to work, putting our heads down and we're going," Marrone said. "The kids are doing a good job of working and practicing. We can't have one loss leading to another. We've already had two straight."
At least Syracuse is playing at home, where it is 3-1 this season. Plus it is on a weeknight. Syracuse is 2-0 in weeknight games this season, including its impressive romp over West Virginia.
"I think the spotlight is cool and all but we've got to go out and play the game no matter if the game is on Oxygen," running back Antwon Bailey said. "But Friday night definitely brings a different electricity to the team and the Dome. The Dome is usually packed and loud, and I think we tend to feed off that at times."