USF freshman quarterback Matt Grothe was the best player on the field Saturday, leading the Bulls with 279 passing yards, one touchdown throwing, and one touchdown running. More than the statistics, it was Grothe's poise and moxy that rubbed off on his teammates. From the get-go, USF was confident and ready to play.
"I told (the Bulls)last night 'don't be a bit surprised if you're leading in the fourth quarter," said USF head coach Jim Leavitt. "I told them to play with the talent that God gave them. It was a pretty big win for us."
West Virginia's lack of execution was apparent from its first offensive series. After Eric Wicks intercepted Grothe and returned the ball to the USF 11, the Mountaineers were stuffed on three consecutive running plays. Head coach Rich Rodriguez sent the field goal unit on to seemingly give West Virginia an early 3-0 lead courtesy of Pat McAfee, but much to the surprise of the Mountaineer faithful, holder Travis McClintic pulled up on a fake field goal option run. McClintic, a senior receiver from Lewisburg, W.Va., tried to cut up field but the Bulls were not fooled, and threw him to the ground to thwart the trickery.
West Virginia finally got on the board courtesy of a 30 yard field goal by McAfee on the first play of the second quarter. The sophomore kicker/punter gave his team a 6-0 lead with 9:14 remaining in the second quarter on a second field goal, this time from 32 yards.
After a Quinton Andrews interception, the Mountaineers had a chance to pull ahead even further with a nice drive. That was not to be, however, as quarterback Patrick White had the ball knocked loose by freshman defensive end Chris Robinson. George Selvie scooped up the ball at the nine and made a short sprint towards paydirt to give USF the lead with 7:20 left in the second quarter.
From that point on, West Virginia looked rattled and unsure of itself offensively. The Bulls used their speed to take away White and Slaton's bread and butter plays to the outside.
"We were trying to keep everything contained, and make sure that they had to cutback a lot," said Robinson of the USF defensive gameplan. "We have a really speedy defense, so we wanted to keep everything in the middle and not let it get to the outside where they wanted to be."
In the second half, the Mountaineers drove down the field and had the ball inside the five yardline of South Florida poised to finally get a touchdown on the board. Bad karma struck again, with the Mountaineers trailing 14-6, as Slaton uncharacteristically coughed up the pigskin on the goalline. The fumble was recovered by USF linebacker Ben Moffitt at the one. The defense held, forcing Rod Smith's offense to a three and out. The Mountaineers pulled to within 14-12 on a 15 yard touchdown pass from White to Brandon Myles. Rodriguez then elected to go for the tie with a two point conversion, rather than pulling within one on an extra point. White's pass was too low for receiver Darius Reynaud, thus West Virginia still trailed.
The Bulls struck back with a nine play, 70 yard drive that culminated with Grothe's touchdown pass to Ean Randolph on an out pattern. The speedy Randolph was originally ruled to have stepped out of bounds on the run, but the booth reviewed the play and found indisputable evidence that he stayed in bounds for the duration of the run.
South Florida would wrap up their scoring with an 18 yard field goal by Delbert Alvarado early in the fourth quarter.
West Virginia looked to be dead in the water, but White found Myles streaking down the sideline, made a perfect throw, and brought the Mountaineers to within five on the touchdown pass which covered 44 yards.
The defense got a much needed stop, allowing the offense one final drive beginning with 3:05 left. The Mountaineers got a first down courtesy of a 19 yard pass to Rayshawn Bolden, but that was the last gasp of blue and gold breath on this unseasonably warm November Saturday. White's pass attempt for Myles was too high, and carromed off of the senior receiver's hands and into the waiting arms of Trae Williams.
The Bulls had gone on the road and completed the biggest win in the 11 year history of their program.
"We just messed around this game," said Rodriguez, who's team entered the game as a three touchdown favorite. "I said all year we aren't good enough to win a game if we mess around."
Over in the other locker room, Leavitt was grinning from ear to ear as he dried off following the obligatory Gatorade shower.
"This is probably the biggest win (in program history) because we won here, and it's hard to win here," he said. "It's hard to beat them anywhere."
On Saturday, Leavitt and his Bulls had their way with the nation's seventh-ranked team and in the process, put themselves on the map.