WEST VIRGINIA 28, USF 13: The Bulls can't convert on scoring chances but wind up with their first bowl bid.
By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 4, 2005
[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Freshman Carlton Hill saw his first significant action at quarterback for USF, running for a late touchdown, but threw two interceptions.
TAMPA - Forty-five minutes after a 28-13 loss to No.12 West Virginia, USF still found the next proud milestone in their history.
The Bulls are going bowling.
"We would love to have the University of South Florida in Charlotte," said George Johnson, coordinator of the Car Care Bowl, handing a black helmet with the bowl's logo to Bulls coach Jim Leavitt, who promptly squeezed it onto his head, his players cheering around him.
Like the bowl berth, it was a fit that made the Bulls smile.
"We're going to battle, guys," said Leavitt, who will lead USF in its 100th game at 11 a.m. Dec. 31 on ESPN against an ACC team to be announced today.
"What a milestone for the program, to play in a New Year's Eve bowl," athletic director Doug Woolard said.
The Bulls didn't know they were going to Charlotte until minutes earlier, when Connecticut's late rally fell short in a 30-20 loss to No.16 Louisville, which gave the Bulls the Big East's fourth and final bowl berth.
"We earned it," senior defensive end Terrence Royal said. "We worked hard all season, and one of our goals was to go to a bowl game; the first one."
The Bulls (6-5, 4-3) had once hoped Saturday's game - which drew a school-record crowd of 45,274 fans - would be a Big East championship of sorts. But the Mountaineers (10-1, 7-0) showed why they clinched that crown a week ago.
USF, meanwhile, gave up two big plays and struggled to score points as it did in last week's 15-10 loss at Connecticut.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Pat White provided the biggest plays for West Virginia, putting the game away in the second half with touchdown runs of 65 and 76 yards after throwing for a score in the first quarter.
"We couldn't stop Pat White, and everybody in here saw that," Leavitt said. "We knew how good he was, and I was hoping we could hold him to maybe one run, not two."
Getting into the end zone was something two quarterbacks couldn't do for the Bulls until freshman Carlton Hill scrambled 11 yards with 1:20 to play. In two previous trips inside the West Virginia 5, the Bulls had only two Kyle Bronson field goals to show for it with two more drives ending with interceptions deep in West Virginia territory.
The Bulls hadn't just been undefeated at home this season. They hadn't trailed once in four games at Raymond James Stadium. They made up for that Saturday as West Virginia marched down the field on its opening drive and led the rest of the way. The Mountaineers converted a fourth and 2 on the USF 33 during the possession, a 26-yard run from freshman Steve Slaton, who capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown.
USF looked to tie the score in the second quarter, but on third and goal from the West Virginia 1, the Bulls were flagged for an illegal snap.
And after an incompletion, USF settled for a 22-yard Bronson field goal. West Virginia added to its lead with a 7-yard pass from White to Darius Reynaud with 2:15 left in the half, taking a 14-3 lead.
Another USF drive stalled inside the West Virginia 5, with Pat Julmiste's lob to Amarri Jackson going out of bounds on third and goal. That left the Bulls with another Bronson kick, this one from 19 yards to cut the lead to 14-6.
West Virginia didn't let the Bulls stay close as White broke loose down the visiting sideline and went 65 yards for a touchdown and a 21-6 lead. He broke loose for a 76-yard run for his team's final score, finishing with 177 yards on 11 carries.
"We had the ball at the 1-yard line, and you've got to score a touchdown," Leavitt said.
Hill replaced junior Julmiste, the Bulls' starter since Week 2, and showed his promising athleticism, scrambling for first downs on two long second-half drives and scoring his first touchdown.
"You saw there's the possibility of him being a pretty good one," Leavitt said.
Saturday's announced crowd topped 40,000 fans for the fourth time in USF's nine-year history and the third time this year.
The crowd puts this year's home average at 38,865 fans, well ahead of last year's average of 27,060.
This was a game the Bulls had hoped would have the Big East title on the line, but that ended when USF stumbled and lost 15-10 at Connecticut last week, clinching the title for the Mountaineers. West Virginia had won its past three games by at least 30 points, and USF's defense was the only thing keeping them from continuing that streak.
The Bulls won't know their opponent until today, but it'll be an ACC team, either Clemson, N.C. State or Georgia Tech. USF receives an allotment of 12,500 tickets, and while the team won't practice for a week, it has something to play for, something it has have never had in their decade of existence.