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Comeback bites Bulls this time

USF leads 7-3 through three quarters but the Jayhawks have the answers in the fourth.

By GREG AUMAN
Published September 24, 2006


LAWRENCE, Kan. - For three weeks, this had been the strange recipe for a USF victory: struggle offensively for about three quarters, lean on the defense, then wake up and make enough big plays late to escape with a wild if unimpressive win.

On Saturday, that late-game magic wasn't there, but the usual problems were. And Kansas, buoyed by USF turnovers and penalties, pulled away with a 13-7 win before 40,933 at Memorial Stadium.

The scene was set again as USF's defense got the ball back for one last drive with 1:06 to play, and quarterback Matt Grothe, Mr. Comeback in his first three games, passed for 20 yards and ran for 14, putting USF at the Kansas 27 with 13 seconds to play.

But Grothe missed on two passes. Then with three seconds on the clock he lofted a pass that was intercepted in the end zone by Justin Thornton on the final play.

"I really thought we'd win the game on that last drive," coach Jim Leavitt said. "We came in here expecting to win, and we didn't win. It's disappointing."

USF's offense had chances to score, coming up a yard short on fourth and 2 from the Kansas 3 on the opening possession; Grothe's two interceptions came inside the Kansas 30 in the final minute of each half. Another fourth-quarter drive ended when running back Walt Smith lost a fumble, the low point of another weak night from the running game, which got all of 15 yards from its backs.

"We just got stopped," said Grothe, who accounted for 262 of USF's 309 offensive yards. "We didn't execute well tonight, and it showed. ... We had too many mistakes. We'll learn from tonight and get better as a team."

USF's defense struggled to get the ball back to its offense for three quarters. Kansas quarterback Adam Barmann, filling in for injured starter Kerry Meier, converted 11 of his first 15 third downs to keep drives alive and keep the Bulls defense on the field. Kansas had the ball twice as much as USF in a scoreless first half.

The Bulls (3-1), who led 7-3 entering the fourth on a 7-yard keeper by Grothe, gave up a 29-yard pass on third down during Kansas' go-ahead drive. The drive ended, of course, on third down as Jon Cornish rushed for 2 of his game-high 105 yards, going around the left end for a 10-7 lead.

USF's first-half struggles came because the defense couldn't get off the field. Kansas, from the Big 12, was 8-for-11 on third down, with Barmann completing seven passes of 11 yards or longer.

The Bulls, meanwhile, went 1-for-5 on third down. Kansas had the ball twice as long as the Bulls in the first half, and in the final minute of the half, the Jayhawks had run 20 more plays than USF.

Both teams got close to the end zone in the first half. USF marched down the field on the opening drive, with Grothe hitting Marcus Edwards for 29 yards on the first play. Ean Randolph went 22 yards on a reverse handoff to the Kansas 11, but from there, the Bulls ran Grothe three straight plays, setting up a fourth-and-2 situation from the Kansas 3.

Leavitt didn't hesitate, going for it and calling another Grothe keeper, but the quarterback was held to 1 yard and Kansas took over, one of three first-half drives that started inside its 5-yard line.

"We should have gone for it," Grothe said. "We should have scored on the first drive, and there were a lot of other drives we could have capitalized on."

Kansas looked to score in the second quarter when Barmann completed a pass to receiver Dexton Fields inside the 10. But as he neared the goal line Fields was met by three defensive backs, who forced a fumble that the Bulls recovered in the end zone.

The Bulls' offense continues to rely almost completely on Grothe, who passed for 196 yards and ran for 66 and a touchdown.

After three comeback wins, Grothe now has his first loss, and the Bulls come home to open Big East play Friday night against Rutgers.

"We've got to flush this and look forward to next week and conference," safety Carlton Williams said.