USF 26, Auburn 23 in Overtime

Auburn's defense couldn't overcome an AU offense that netted just 290 yards.

Auburn, Ala.--South Florida hit a 14-yard overtime touchdown pass from Matt Grothe to Jesse Hester to defeat the turnover-plagued Auburn Tigers 26-23 victory on Saturday night.

Auburn turned the ball over five times vs. the Bulls while South Florida did not have a turnover.

"Obviously, everybody can see we have to get better offensively," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville.

Asked about what needs to happen to improve an offense that netted just 290 yards on Saturday night, Tuberville said, "Obviously, we need to make some changes, and we will do that. That*s what we need to do as coaches. It is just unfortunate that we didn*t take advantage of some opportunities. That*s just the way it goes.

The Bulls scored first, using the kicking game and a penalty on the Auburn defense to set up a touchdown.

The Bulls pinned Auburn back to its one on a downed punt and Auburn couldn't get off the goal line after quarterback Brandon Cox stumbled and fell while dropping back in the pocket on third down.

The visitors got great field position at the Auburn 45 and scored in just five plays as the drive was kept alive on a third down pass interference call on Jonathan Wilhite. Set up in the shotgun, Matt Grothe scored the touchdown at right guard from a yard out on the QB keeper.

After a three and out for the offense, the Tigers managed to score by driving 48 yards on nine plays. The Tigers hurt their cause on a first and 10 illegal procedure penalty on Lee Ziemba and settled for a 49-yard field goal by Wes Byrum with 4:19 left in the first period. That cut the USF lead to 7-3.

However, the Bulls put together a more impressive drive, moving 69 yards on seven plays for a two-yard TD run by Mike Ford. The key play was an impressive one-hand grab for 23 yards by wideout Taurus Johnson on third and eight pushing the Bulls forward to the Auburn 31.

On the next play, Grothe kept the ball at left ended and danced past Auburn defenders for a 27-yard gain. Two plays later Ford, lined up in a wishbone formation, scored at right tackle with 1:56 left in the opening quarter to put USF ahead 14-3.

The Tigers responded on their next possession by moving 65 yards on seven plays for a touchdown. Tailback Mario Fannin scored his first college touchdown from four yards out with 14:15 left in the second quarter.

The Tigers kept the Bulls pinned deep in their own territory for most of the second quarter and finally used the good field position to gain the lead with 29 seconds left in the half.

For the second week in a row, Cox found tight end Gabe McKenzie open in the end zone for a three-yard scoring play that put the Tigers on top. The catch capped a 37-yard drive in eight plays that was set up by a 24-yard punt return by Robert Dunn that featured a crunching block by Walter McFadden.

The Tigers had to roll the dice to get the touchdown by converting a fourth down and four play at the 31. Cox hit Dunn in the flat for an eight-yard gain. Fannin then showed his speed to get on the corner and then displayed his power in pushing the football to the USF three on a 15-yard sweep of right end to set up the score.

The Tigers got the second half kickoff, but turned the ball over when Cox lost the handle on a fourth and inches sneak play at the USF 41.

Auburn escaped without giving up points after the Bulls drove the ball into Tiger territory before Delbert Alvardo missed a 37-yard field goal try wide left.

A fumble by Mario Fannin set up the Bulls for another field goal attempt. The Tigers dodged another bullet when Alvarado missed a 45-yarder and on still another chance to tie the game he had a field goal try blocked by Sen'Derrick Marks after still another fumble by the redshirt freshman Fannin, this one on the first play after the blocked kick.

The Bulls finally cashed in on a field goal with 7:46 to play from 38 yards to end an 11-play, 44-yard drive.

The Tigers jumped from the frying pan into the fire on their next offensive play when Cox was intercepted by Mike Jenkins, who returned the pass to the Tiger three where he was pushed out of bounds by Tate.

Again the the Tigers escaped thanks to a terrific stand by the defense, that pushed the Bulls back to the four on fourth down where Alvarado was wide left on a 21-yard field goal try.

Auburn responded by driving into USF territory with two catches by McKenzie turning out to be big plays to set up a 46-yard field goal by Byrum. The freshman nailed the ball through the uprights with 2:54 after the Bulls called their final timeout to try to ice him.

It didn't take the Bulls long to tie the game after Jerome Murphy's 59-yard kickoff return put USF in business at the Tiger 32. After reaching four and goal at the two, the visitors hit a 19-yard field goal with 55 seconds remaining.

After a 34-yard kickoff return to the 36 by Fannin, Auburn ran two plays and then let the clock hit 0:00 to set up an overtime.

USF won the toss for overtime and elected to play defense. Auburn ran Tate for two and Cox's dump pass to Tommy Trott was off target on a play that was open. On third down he Dunn open near the goal, but was off target. Byrum then hit a line drive 40-yard field goal to put Auburn ahed 23-20.

South Florida came out and ran three plays, facing fourth and inches. Grothe made the play on a sneak to the AU 14.

Two plays later the Bulls won the game on a 14 TD pass from Grothe to Hester.

USF coach Jim Leavitt said after the game that victory should be a confidence-booster for the Bulls and added, "We talk about finishing and fighting until the end. I told the team last night that if we are going to have a chance we are going to have to go into overtime. I thought it would come down until the end if we played the type of game we needed to play."

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