South Florida holds on to upset No. 5 WVU
TAMPA, Fla. -- In a game in which No. 18 South Florida upset No. 5 West Virginia, 21-13, that should have been buried in a time capsule, not to be opened until ....
Just not to be opened.
It was that bad and even an exciting finish to a comedy of errors couldn't save it.
Oh, if you were one of the green clad followers of South Florida, it was a thing of beauty that even 10 turnovers couldn't mar. But if you happened to like football the way it is supposed to played, you'd have been better off going out and watching one of the thousands of high school games played around America on Friday night.
For the second season in a row South Florida used the same formula to beat WVU. They were a step faster, a bit more opportunistic -- the difference coming on a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Ben Moffitt and on an interception in their own end zone by Nate Allen.
"They made more plays than we did," was the way a subdued WVU coach Rich Rodriguez termed it after his dreams of an unbeaten season and a BCS, if not a shot at a national championship, were fumbled away.
It would have been more fitting, perhaps, had he turned that statement around to read: "They made fewer bad plays than we did."
The truth is, WVU had six turnovers. In the season's first four games, the Mountaineers committed just four turnovers.
Rodriguez would admit moments later that the pain he was feeling was intensified by the six turnovers that included that interception of Patrick White that was returned for a touchdown, two more interceptions from Jarrett Brown, two fumbles by Steve Slaton, who was held to 61 yards and left the game with cramps, and one by Brandon Hogan.
White, the Big East's Player of the Year, also had to leave the game, just before halftime, with a knee injury and it isn't known if he will be ready to play next week at Syracuse.
But with all that West Virginia did wrong, no one can take anything away from the way South Florida won the game.
True, WVU outgained USF 437 yards to 274. True the Mountaineers controlled the ball for 34 minutes and 38 seconds to 25:22 for USF.
"We needed that one spark," Rodriguez said. "We got closer and closer, but we needed that spark."
South Florida's pressure defense never let them get that spark.
They took the outside game away from WVU with their speed. They attacked so hard up the middle without blitzes, that center Mike Dent seemed intimidated, forcing him into a number of bad snaps.
"It was a physical game, a lot of hitting," said South Florida coach Jim Leavitt.
While South Florida led throughout, WVU managed to battle back. Not that Leavitt ever thought they wouldn't.
"I told my team this week that this game would come down to us driving on them or us having to stop them to win," Leavitt admitted.
And that was what it did come down to. WVU scored a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Jarrett Brown to Darius Reynaud, then stopped South Florida when Johnny Dingle sacked Matt Grothe for a 15-yard loss, forcing South Florida to punt.
The Mountaineers got the ball with 2:41 to play and 70 yards to go for a touchdown. If they could have pulled that off and made a two-point conversion, it would have sent the game into overtime.
WVU went off on a drive but on fourth and 6 at the USF 40, Brown's low pass to 6-foot-8 Wes Lyons slipped through his fingers to the turf, setting off a giddy celebration of the 65,018 fans who made up the record crowd for the biggest gamed South Florida had ever played.
At least that's how it was billed in the newspapers, who even did a special section, and on radio and TV.
Leavitt downplayed that after the game, He refused to get into the giddy celebratory mood.
"When we started this season our goals were not to beat necessarily West Virginia," he said. "Our goal was to win the Big East champions. Let me tell you something, that is very difficult to do and I won't let my guard down because we're only 1-0 in the Big East.
"Everyone is good, and at the end of the season we'll look back and see how good we were. We're good enough to win the first four games. That's all we got. I know that sucks, I know yuou want me to take my shirt off and dance and hug and kiss and all that."
Leavitt said he'd settle for feeling good and start thinking about his team's next game against Florida Atlantic.
Rich Rodriguez will do the same, begin preparing to play at Syracuse, with or without Patrick White.