PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Matt Grothe ran 80 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the second half and the South University of Florida shook off a sluggish start, turning three interceptions into touchdowns in a 48-37 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday.
The win gave the Bulls their ninth win of the season, tying a program record set in 2002 and 2006. USF will go for its first 10 win season in the bowl game.
Nate Allen and Trae Williams scored on interception returns and Ben Moffitt's 60-yard interception return to the Pitt 1 set up Mike Ford's second touchdown run as South Florida (9-3, 4-3 in Big East) rallied from a 14-10 halftime deficit to outscore Pitt 38-23 in the second half for a school record-tying ninth victory.
The interceptions all came off freshman quarterback Pat Bostick.
The Bulls won their third in a row following a midseason three-game losing streak that dropped them out of the Top 25. They may be headed to the Sun Bowl, which is expected to take either them or No. 20 Connecticut depending on which team is higher ranked in the next BCS rankings. UConn played Saturday at No. 4 West Virginia.
Pittsburgh (4-7, 2-4), failing to avoid a second losing season in three years under coach Dave Wannstedt, fell apart after a promising start in which the Panthers led 7-0 and 14-7.
The Panthers, losing their seventh in nine games, must upset rival West Virginia on the road next Saturday to avoid their first eight-loss season since they were 2-9 in former coach Walt Harris' second season in 1998.
Grothe got South Florida going with his touchdown run out of a shotgun formation on the first play after halftime and the Bulls went on to score the next 24 points and open a 34-14 lead. Grothe, who ran for 67 yards and threw for 159 while going 17-of-23, has accounted for 23 touchdowns - 13 on passes and 10 on runs.
Pitt running back LeSean McCoy scored of runs of 1, 1 and 12 yards to give him 14 touchdown runs for the season, breaking Tony Dorsett's 1973 freshman record of 13. McCoy is 20 yards away from joining Dorsett (1,686 yards in 1973) and Curvin Richards (1,228 yards in 1988) as the only Pitt freshmen to gain more than 1,200 yards in a season. McCoy had 55 yards on 18 carries and has 1,180 yards this season.
Bostick, the other key freshman starter in an underclassmen-dominated Pitt lineup, had a much more challenging afternoon despite throwing touchdown passes of 37 yards to Maurice Williams and 10 yards to Darrell Strong.
Allen stepped in front of a Bostick pass intended for Strong and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown that put South Florida up 27-14 on the final play of the third quarter. Five minutes later, Moffitt was dragged down at the 1 on his interception return, but Ford scored from there for his sixth touchdown in three games and 12th of the season.
Williams' 21-yard interception return score with 5 1/2 minutes remaining was his third of the season and gave him 16 interceptions for his career. South Florida has forced 14 turnovers during its three-game winning streak and 41 this season, and has scored five touchdowns on defense.
Bostick, a high school player a year ago, was benched a week ago during a 20-16 loss to Rutgers, but started even after Wannstedt said earlier in the week he might start redshirt freshman Kevan Smith instead. Smith never got in as Bostick went 24-of-37 for 298 yards. Bostick now has eight touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
USF Scores Off 3 Picks in 48-37 Win at Pitt
Bulls Daily Top Stories
USF hosts Navy (22) in Salute to ServiceThe Bulls will be hosting the Navy Midshipmen (22) for the first time and will be honoring service members around all the military branches on Friday. This will be the second…
Bulls Daily10:21 AM
Rob’s Ramblings: Where is USF's defense?The USF defense has struggled all season long and have really suffered while preventing the run. What happened to the impressive ‘Bull Shark’ defense and can it be fixed?
Bulls DailyYesterday at 5:00 AM
5 Keys to a USF Victory over Navy (22)Coming off of a tough conference loss to Temple, the Bulls will need to rebound back with a big win over Navy (22) to remain on top of the AAC’s East division.
Bulls DailyWednesday at 10:07 AM
LIVE: Week 9 USF Press ConferenceBe sure t o check in for live updates from USF's Week 9 press conference
Bulls DailyTuesday at 8:34 AM