tampabay.com

Records fall all over, but Bulls don't dwell on day

USF players set three marks, but the conversation turns quickly to Louisville.

By GREG AUMAN
Published November 12, 2006


TAMPA - From start to finish, all throughout USF's 27-10 drubbing of Syracuse Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, records were being broken.

Quarterback Matt Grothe set the school's passing record by piling up 364 yards. Freshman Delbert Alvarado set a Big East record by hitting a 56-yard field goal at the end of the first half. Linebacker Stephen Nicholas, playing in his final home game, set the school mark for tackles for loss, getting one of seven Bulls sacks.

But if you were really looking for broken records, you had to listen to the Bulls 7-3, 3-2 after the game. No talk about locking up a winning record for the first time in three years, no mention of having a bowl berth all but assured. Instead, the same chorus echoed from all the Bulls: We're looking forward to Louisville.

"I imagine we'll get a bowl bid," coach Jim Leavitt said. "I'm not really thinking about it at this point."

There was no mention of the Birmingham Bowl, though the Dec. 23 game looks like USF's likely destination. As long as they're eligible, the Bulls are aiming for a Big East title, and that narrow path requires a win Saturday at No. 3 Louisville, which suffered its first loss Thursday to No. 15 Rutgers.

"There's going to be a lot of doubters, but there's a lot of people that think we have a good chance of beating them," said Grothe, who threw two touchdowns and broke Marquel Blackwell's school season record for passing yards by a freshman. "We've got to show them what we're all about."

Against Syracuse (3-7, 0-5), which dropped its 12th straight conference game, Grothe was much of what the Bulls were all about. He led USF down the field on its first drive, hitting receiver S.J. Green for a 6-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead.

Then for more than two quarters, the only scoring came from an unlikely source: the kicking game. USF had hit three field goals all season, none longer than 30 yards, but Alvarado hit from 47 yards - then missed from 30. With six seconds left in the half, Leavitt sent him out to try a 56-yard kick, and the Robinson grad nailed it, setting a conference record and giving USF a 13-3 lead before 29,694.

Three third-quarter turnovers kept the Bulls from putting Syracuse away.

"We really tried to let them back in the game," Leavitt said. "We were fortunate that our defense came up with some really big plays."

And finally, the offense did, too. Grothe found receiver Taurus Johnson open for a 79-yard touchdown pass - the second longest in USF history - with 2:09 left in the third quarter.

"I can't say enough about (Grothe). That man showed a lot of maturity as an offensive leader," said Johnson, who had five catches for 131 yards. "He's amazing."

And while the offense piled up 514 yards, its most since joining the Big East last season, Saturday's win was also notable for USF's defense, which didn't give up a touchdown until the fourth quarter for the third week in a row. After giving up a field goal on the opening drive, the Bulls didn't allow Syracuse to cross their 25-yard line until the final quarter.

It didn't take long for the Bulls to stop celebrating and look ahead to Louisville and their season finale at West Virginia on Nov. 25.

"The Syracuse game, nothing against them, but it's time to move on. (Louisville) is all I can think about," linebacker Patrick St. Louis said. "We don't want to stop right here. We want to go 9-3 this season. This will really test us, and I'm ready for that test."

Greg Auman can be reached at (813) 226-3346 or auman@sptimes.com.