Sat 12/3/05 7:30
Raymond James Stadium
BCS Rank: 11
Pitt 45-13 W
Rtn Lettermen: 41
Rtn Starters: 17
BCS Rank: 45
UConn 10-15 L
Rtn Lettermen: 43
Rtn Starters: 18
Last Meeting: 2005
This meeting, the first ever between the two schools, was originally slated to be played on Oct. 22, but with a hurricane bearing down on Florida's Gulf Coast, the contest was postponed and eventually rescheduled for Dec. 3.
It also appeared for a while that this game would be a winner-takes-all in terms of the top spot in the Big East and the BCS berth that comes with it. But USF's loss this past weekend at UConn handed West Virginia the Big East championship. Thus Saturday's game is insignificant when it comes to WVU's postseason destination. Still, the Bulls (6-4 overall and 4-2 in the Big East) have exceeded almost all expectations as a firstyear member of the Big East Conference.
Although most expected the jump to the Big East to be an easy one for Louisville, many predicted that the move would be much tougher on South Florida, which was still a Division 1-AA team just a few seasons ago.
The ascent has been a quick one for the Bulls, who moved to Division I-A, then to Conference USA and now into a BCS Conference in the Big East in less time than it takes an ESPN analyst to take a cheap shot at West Virginia. Making the jump that quickly, in most observers' eyes, was a recipe for disaster.
But all of that was before the Bulls knocked off media darling Louisville and began the season with an impressive 3-2 record. Those two losses came to Miami and Penn State, both currently ranked among the nation's top 10 teams. Neither of those games was a blowout, either, as the Bulls proved early on that they can compete with anyone.
Then, after a disappointing loss to Pitt, USF rebounded to win three straight contests over Rutgers, Syracuse and Cincinnati to become bowl eligible and put themselves in position to challenge for a Big East title — not bad at all for a team that was predicted by most to bring up the bottom of the league. The Bulls saw their hopes of a league championship and a BCS berth come crashing down with a 15-10 loss at UConn this past Saturday, but USF has still shown itself as a force to be reckoned with, both now and the in the future. Now with a 6-4 record, the Bulls will almost certainly be headed to a bowl this year, no matter what it does Saturday against WVU. Instead of a BCS berth, South Florida will likely be headed for Charlotte. But for a program that didn't even exist nine years ago and has never been to a bowl before, USF has made amazing strides.
South Florida first started its football program in 1997, initially playing at the Division I-AA level. It made the jump to Division I-A on a full-time basis in 2001. Jim Leavitt is the only coach USF has known, and other than the squad's initial season in 1997 (5-6), he has had just one losing season since (4-7 in 2004, when the Bulls were a member of Conference USA).
After finishing 77th in the nation against the run last year, USF's biggest rebuilding effort has come on the defensive line, where the undersized Bulls' unit was often overmatched in 2004. This season USF is allowing just 123.1 yards per game on the ground, and the three seniors on the defensive line have been a big reason for that more than respectable statistic. Senior defensive end Terrence Royal (6-3, 255 lbs.) is the leader of that group, and he has recorded 34 tackles in five games. Royal is also second on the team with six sacks, and he has a nose for the football, recovering three fumbles while forcing three more in his nine starts.
Another senior, Jon Simmons (6-5, 245 lbs.), starts at the opposite defensive end position on coach Earl Lane's defensive line. A native of nearby St. Petersburg, Fla., Simmons has been credited for just seven tackles on the season, but he does have two pass breakups on his season resume, he blocked an extra point on the road at Penn State, and he came up with a crucial fumble recovery at Rutgers.
Tackle Tim Jones is the leader in the middle of the line. The senior from Lakeland, Fla., played his biggest game of the year against Louisville, recording five total tackles and returning a punt block in that game. Jones (6-3, 285 lbs.) also has 27 tackles, three sack and three pass breakups on his season totals.
Nose tackle Allen Cray (6-0, 295 lbs.) has picked up right where he left off after a successful season as a redshirt freshman in 2004. The Lake City, Fla., product had 11 tackles in his rookie campaign, and he is just one shy of that number with two games to play this year.
South Florida's linebackers are also much-improved with three returning starters and some developing young talent. Junior Stephen Nicholas (6-3, 225 lbs.), a former freshman All- American, is now a junior and the star of the group. Playing one of the outside linebacker positions in co-defensive coordinators' Wally Burnham and Rick Kravitz' 4-3 attack, Nicholas is tied for second on the team with six sacks through the first nine games. Nicholas is tied for second on the club with 57 tackles, 12 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage, and he has three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a recovery to his credit.
Patrick St. Louis (6-1, 230 lbs.) learned a number of lessons in the middle last season, and that has made him even better on the outside. The junior is tied for the team lead with 57 solo tackles, and his 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble have been major plays for the Bulls' defense as well.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the entire team is sophomore middle linebacker Ben Moffitt (6-2, 235 lbs.), who has turned a solid unit into a very good one. Moffitt leads the team with 67 total tackles, and nine of those have been for a loss. He also counts two sacks, three pass breakups, two blocked kicks and an incredible four forced fumbles among his 2005 accomplishments.
The three starters have recorded 10.5 sacks among them, and the backups have provided a few more, giving the Bulls a pass rush that they struggled to find in Conference USA a season ago. That pass rush has been especially important with a secondary that allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for 20 touchdowns while recording just four interceptions all year in 2004. USF has improved that number, only allowing nine passing touchdowns in as many games while coming up with 12 interceptions, but it is still allowing 187.6 yards per game through the air.
The USF corners are very young, with two sophomores with little experience manning the two positions. Trae Williams (5-10, 185 lbs.) is the starter on the left side where he has 30 tackles, three breakups and two interceptions to his credit this season. The sophomore's best game came in the opener against Penn State, where he recorded a team-high six tackles and an interception.
Another sophomore, Mike Jenkins (6-0, 200 lbs.) has taken over the cornerback duties on the right side. He is also performing well considering his lack of experience, and he is sixth on the team with 35 tackles. The Bradenton, Fla., native also has four pass breakups and two interceptions on the season. Jenkins and Williams might be young, but free safety Carlton Williams (6-3, 205 lbs.) is even younger. The true freshman has stepped right into the lineup, and he is already fourth on the team with 50 tackles. The rookie has also broken up three passes, picked off another and recovered a fumble.
The only experienced member of the USF secondary is senior strong safety Johnnie Jones, who scored his first career touchdown on an interception return against Rutgers. Jones leads the team with four pass breakups, and he has 41 total tackles on the season to go along with a pair of interceptions.
On offense junior Pat Julmiste is entering his third year as the USF starting quarterback. The Miramar, Fla., product has had good times and bad at South Florida, including a 324-yard passing performance against TCU a year ago. But what offensive coordinator Rod Smith — a former standout quarterback for Rich Rodriguez at Glenville State College — is looking for from his quarterback is consistency. Julmiste is 97-for-184 through the air this season for 1,107 yards, but he has been plagued by six interceptions compared to just five touchdowns.
On the ground the 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound signal-caller has run for 319 yards and four touchdowns to help keep opposing defenses off balance.
The Bulls do not have one big-play guy at receiver, but they are blessed with some depth and a number of very capable pass catchers. Sophomore Amari Jackson is Julmiste's favorite target among the wideouts, and he has hauled in 18 passes for 210 yards out of South Florida's no-huddle, spread offensive attack.
Another second-year guy, Johnny Peyton, is also a major part of the passing attack. He has caught 16 passes for 172 yards, and he leads the receivers with three touchdowns.
In all, 14 different Bulls have caught passes this season, as the USF offense has been determined to spread the wealth around. Without standout receivers and with an up-and-down quarterback, the Bulls have had to rely heavily on their running game. That, however, has been just fine with running back Andre Hall. The senior set a school record with 1,357 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in 2004, and he is not letting up in his final campaign. Hall's production has even forced a change in the Bulls' offensive philosophy, as a blocking back has been added to the scheme for many of the plays.
On the year Hall has rushed for 1,131 yards and six touchdowns on 210 carries, and he is also the leading receiver with 21 catches for 257 yards and two touchdowns. He has also proven he can come up big when it matters most, and he totaled 101 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns against Louisville.
The success in the running game can be partially attributed to a veteran offensive line, which has performed above expectations thus far. Thodric Watson (6-5, 295 lbs.), a Junior College All-American and a cousin to Andre Hall, is the starter at left tackle, while Marc Dile (6-4, 280 lbs.) starts at right tackle. The freshman made his first start against Penn State, but he has graded out well for offensive line coach Greg Frey.
Two seniors fill the guard positions with Frank Davis (6-4, 320 lbs.) starting on the left side, and Chris Carothers starting on the right. Davis is considered to be the strongest player on the USF roster, and Carothers has made 39 career starts and only improves with each game.
John Miller, who can play any position on the line, starts at center after starting in eight games in 2004. The 6-foot, 275-pound senior has proven to be a leader both on and off the field.
Much like it is in WVU's offense, the USF tight end is used mainly as an extra lineman. Senior Derek Carter does well in that role, and he has also proven he can catch on the few occasions that the Bulls have gone that route. Carter has caught four passes on the year, one of them going for a touchdown against Louisville.
Although the USF offense is considered tricky to some opposing defenses, West Virginia should be comfortable with most of what is sees. Smith learned most of his scheme from Rodriguez, and the WVU defense should see many of the same schemes it sees in practice every day. The Bulls, however, may be a little more balanced, as they are currently averaging 229.8 yards per game on the ground and 131.9 yards through the air.
Freshman Kyle Bronson has assumed the kicking duties for the Bulls, and he has been solid, connecting on 8-of-12 field goals including a 47-yarder at the end of the opening half against Louisville. Senior punter Brandon Baker is averaging more than 42 yards per boot, and he has pinned 15 punts inside the 20. Baker kicked his sixth career 60-yard punt against Miami.
Saturday's matchup will be the first ever between the two schools on the gridiron. The two schools have met once in basketball with the Bulls winning 80-71 against Joedy Gardner's Mountaineers during the 1977-78 season.
While this will be the Mountaineers' first game ever in Tampa, West Virginia's football team has played plenty of games in the state of Florida over the years, but WVU's success has been limited. The Mountaineers are 3-13 all-time in games played in the state of Florida (2-6 at Miami, 1-0 at UCF and 0-7 in the Gator and Carquest bowls).
The Sunshine State may not always be friendly to West Virginia, but USF certainly likes the home turf. While the Bulls are 2-4 away from Tampa this year (including their disappointing loss at chilly UConn this past week), they are a perfect 4-0 at Raymond James Stadium. Of course it's understandable that South Florida would be better at home, because so many of its players are natives. Of the 99 players on the Bulls' preseason roster, 91 of them are from Florida. In fact, there are more USF players who are products of Glades Central High School and Edison High School (10 in all from the two prominent high school programs from the Lake Okeechobee and Miami Region, respectively) than there are out-of-staters (eight total, two from Georgia and Ohio, and one each from Alabama, Illinois, New Jersey and the Republic of Panama).