Defense digs in with gem vs. Mountaineers

Published November 26, 2006

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Just as coach Jim Leavitt gave credit for USF's upset of No. 7 West Virginia to defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, the veteran assistant passed that praise along to his players.

"Our kids have given us great effort all year, and tonight they played assignment football, what you have to do against an option team," Burnham said. "They were determined to give their best effort, and that's exactly what happened."

Leavitt said he wasn't sure about Burnham's defensive scheme last week, questioning him again and again. Burnham remembered his days at Florida State, trying to stop Nebraska's option offense seven times, and reminded Leavitt that he had faced the same thing while at Kansas State.

Burnham got a call Tuesday night saying his mother, Cora Burnham, 84, was being taken to the hospital, and his thoughts were with her much of last week, even as he prepared the Bulls defense for such a tough challenge.

"Wally's mother's been very sick, and he had to leave every night," Leavitt said. "One day we got up in the morning at 7 to meet on defense, and those guys usually go till 1 in the morning. Those guys do a real good job."

HOMECOMING: Offensive coordinator Rod Smith, a West Virginia native, had about 30 friends and family members in attendance, many lifelong Mountaineers fans who pulled against the home team in person for the first time.

"It's like a dream come true," said Smith's father, Gary, a high school coach in Franklin, W.Va., for more than 30 years. "You grow up a West Virginia fan all your life, so this puts you in a split situation, but obviously, there's only one way to go."

GOOD AND BAD: Oddly enough, the biggest win in USF history also could wind up the costliest win in USF history. If the Mountaineers' loss keeps the Big East from having two teams in BCS games, that's millions in lost revenues for the conference, which would have been split among the eight football schools.

"I'm just happy to see this program make this kind of advancement. That's all we want to do," athletic director Doug Woolard said. "It's a very significant win. I know how hard this staff works in recruiting, and you have to feel an effort like that on national television can make an impression on young people making a decision on where to go."

BREAKOUT: Sophomore defensive end Josh Julmiste, who had totaled 11/2 tackles for loss in his first five games this season, had three, including two of USF's four sacks.

"I thought Josh Julmiste played a great game," Leavitt said. "I thought he had an awfully good game. Hopefully he'll continue to get better."

SPEED HELPS: Two hustle plays came from cornerback Mike Jenkins, who ran down receiver Darius Reynaud on a 57-yard gain to the 11, which allowed USF to hold West Virginia to a field goal. Jenkins also caught up to receiver Brandon Myles at the 2-yard line on a 29-yard gain in the third quarter, and Steve Slaton fumbled on the next play.

"That's what No. 4 Jenkins does best," Burnham said. "Every two or three games, he's going to save us a touchdown."

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