USF, Welcome To The Top 10

By Carolyn Braff - September 28, 2007

The Tampa Tribune called it the biggest game to ever take place in the city of Tampa. ESPN called it the biggest game ever shown on their Friday night broadcasts. Everyone else called it the biggest game in the short history of USF football, and everyone was right. Friday night's Big East battle between No. 5 West Virginia and No. 18 USF was everything it was billed to be and more as the Bulls pulled off a drag-em-through-the-trenches 21-13 upset win to all but secure their spot as one of the nation's top 10.

So much for the Big Least.

This was arguably the best defensive game played all season. From the opening snap, the Bulls absolutely owned the line of scrimmage, swarming on defense and flying around the field. The game's eye-popping 10 turnovers (five fumbles and five picks between the two teams) were not a mark of sloppy offense, but of pound-it-out defense by both squads. USF senior linebacker Ben Moffitt picked off two West Virginia passes (and almost had a third), returning one for the game's first touchdown, and that set the tone. All night long, defenders were punching the ball out of tailbacks' grasps, bobbling passes into the arms of diving teammates and making heads-up defensive plays that are just as much fun to watch (and far more fun to cringe over) as any receiver making a diving catch in the end zone.

Oh, and the Bulls held running back phenom Steve Slaton to 54 yards on 13 carries. In case you weren't sure how good this USF defense is, in his first four games, Slaton gained an average of 125.5 yards on the ground. Big difference there.

USF sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe made his fair share of mistakes in this one (throwing his first, and second, interceptions of the season, for starters), but what was incredible to watch was how Grothe bounced back up after every hit, slide or tackle. Not once did the QB stay on the turf longer than the defender that put him there, looking in at least one play like a jack-in-the-box gone haywire. His uncanny ability to pop up after every hit gave the USF offense a clearcut leader to follow, and Grothe took that leadership role to the bank.

West Virginia quarterback Pat White leaving the game with an injury in the second quarter was truly unfortunate, especially when the Mountaineers had a chance to come back and tie the game with a final two-minute drill in the fourth quarter (put a healthy White in the pocket and I bet he converts that last fourth-down attempt with less than a minute on the clock). But the Mountaineers' problems went far deeper than just losing White.

What was with their center? West Virginia's starting center seemed to misdirect about one of every three snaps, and those missed snaps had a ripple effect, carrying over to handoffs between offensive players. Granted, that USF defense certainly was getting in their faces for four quarters of football, but the utter inability on West Virginia's part to execute routine offensive maneuvers (e.g. hand the ball off from the QB to a RB on a standard play) allowed the Bulls to make mincemeat out of the nation's No. 5 team. Some of those fumbles were good defensive plays to be credited to USF, but too many were offensive miscues.

Poor Rich Rodriguez. Every time the camera panned to him, I hoped someone would hand him a bullhorn of some sort, as he appeared to spend the entire game trying to get the attention of one player or another. His clearly mouthed cries of "Hurry Up" were understood probably everywhere in the nation but on the field, and that's a problem. West Virginia seemed to never find a sense of urgency in this game, even when down 21-6 in the fourth.

USF, on the other hand, could have done a better job of managing the clock, as they were running plays with a solid 8 seconds left on the play clock at a stage in the game where they should have been ticking every last second down. After all, even with his partner in crime stuck on the sideline, Steve Slaton is still a dangerous man. There is no need to give him more time than necessary to break the game open.

What a statement game for the Big East, and what a thrill for USF. Head coach Jim Leavitt is certainly not looking ahead just yet (how emphatic was that post-game speech about how anyone in the Big East can beat anyone else?) but the rest of the nation will be. Congratulations to the Bulls, and here's hoping White is healed and ready for revenge by next week.

Posted by Carolyn Braff at 11:56 PM on September 28, 2007
Comments (1)


Based on strength of opponent and record, USF should move into the Top 10.

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