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TAMPA – No. 18 South Florida forced six turnovers, converting one into a touchdown, and held off a late rally to upset No. 5 West Virginia, 21-13, Friday night at a sold out Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
“You have to give them a lot of credit,” West Virginia Coach Rich Rodriguez said. “They did a good job and forced us into a lack of execution. I’m very disappointed but it’s a long conference race and we have to get back to work tomorrow.”
The first half was a story of lost opportunities by the Mountaineers and opportunities that were capitalized on by the Bulls. After failing to take advantage of a couple of fumble recoveries and an Ellis Lankster interception in the first quarter, West Virginia faced a third and eight at its own 28 yard line. Patrick White threw his first interception of the season when linebacker Ben Moffitt stepped in front of his pass intended for fullback Owen Schmitt in the flat and Moffitt took it 28 yards to the end zone to put South Florida up 7-0.
South Florida’s other big first-half play came on another third and eight when Matt Grothe was flushed from the pocket and appeared to be wrapped up by several Mountaineers defenders before slipping away and heaving a 55-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Carlton Mitchell to give the Bulls a 14-0 lead with 10:43 left in the first half.
West Virginia was again its own worst enemy on its next possession when Brandon Hogan fumbled a screen pass after the Mountaineers drove to the USF 30 yard line. Nate Allen scooped up the carom and raced 44 yards to the West Virginia 26.
Ryan Mundy intercepted Matt Grothe on the very next play and West Virginia began a 15-play drive that eventually gave the Mountaineers a third and goal at the two yard line. However, a high snap forced Jarrett Brown to retrieve the football at the 18 yard line and the Mountaineers had to settle for a Pat McAfee 35-yard field goal.
On WVU’s final drive of the first half Patrick White converted a fourth and five from the South Florida 35, racing 18 yards before being hit in the thigh by a defender’s helmet. White left the game with a deep thigh bruise and did not return.
The Bulls took the opening possession of the second half and used a 13-play, 74-yard drive capped by a 19-yard Jamar Taylor touchdown run to take control of the game with a 21-3 lead.
Another McAfee field goal made the score 21-6. West Virginia forced South Florida to punt and was in business once again when Noel Devine’s 37-yard scamper set up first and goal at the seven yard line. However, West Virginia committed another back-breaking turnover when a Brown pass was intercepted by Allen in the end zone.
Yet another defensive stand set up West Virginia’s best offensive drive of the game. Taking the ball deep in its own territory, West Virginia marched 85 yards in 12 plays. Darius Reynaud’s nine yard touchdown reception made the score 21-13 with 5:45 left to play. The key play in the drive came on fourth and 15 from the USF 36 when Brown found Wes Lyons for a 20-yard reception to keep the drive alive.
The Mountaineer defense got the football back into the hands of the offense down eight with 2:51 remaining. Facing fourth and 11 on his on 29, Brown raced 27 yards to the USF 44. After a five-yard reception by Jock Sanders and Brown sack Brown’s two final pass attempts fell incomplete. A fourth-and-six toss to Lyons was too low for the 6-8 receiver to handle, turning the ball over to South Florida to run out the clock.
The Mountaineer defense turned in its third straight solid performance holding the South Florida to just 280 yards of offense.
Brown turned in a courageous performance in the second half, completing 11 of 20 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown despite being under constant pressure. Brown also had a game-high 61 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Despite 437 yards of total offense, the athletic and fast South Florida (4-0, 1-0) defense managed to stifle the dynamic duo of White and Slaton for the second straight year.
Slaton managed just 54 yards on 13 carries. In three games against South Florida, Slaton has managed just 183 yards on 59 carries for a 3.1 yards-per-carry.
White was 12 of 18 for 100 yards with one interception before exiting the game. The loss denied West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez his 100th career coaching victory.
Rodriguez will have a chance to get it next Saturday when West Virginia (4-1, 0-1) travels to Syracuse. Kickoff from the Carrier Dome is set for noon and the game will be televised as the Big East game of the week.
USF - Moffitt 26 interception return (Alvarado kick)
USF - Mitchell 55 pass from Grothe (Alvarado kick)
WV - McAfee 36 FG
USF - Taylor 19 run (Alvarado kick)
WV - McAfee 35 FG
WV - Reynaud 9 pass from Brown (McAfee kick)
RUSHING: WV - Brown 15-61, Slaton 13-54, White 9-36, Devine 4-36, Schmitt 5-19, Reynaud 1-minus 1, Team, 1-minus 17, Total 48-188; USF - Taylor 15-58, Ford 5-42, Grothe 13-38, Williams 2-7, Team 3-minus 6, Total 38-139.
PASSING: WV - Brown 11-20-2-149-1, White 12-18-1-100-1, Total 23-38-3-249-1; USF - Grothe 11-20-2-135-1.
RECEIVING: WV - Jalloh 5-87, Lyons 3-48, Reynaud 5-47, Gonzales 1-32, Slaton 1-13, Hogan 4-10, Sanders 2-8, Schmitt 2-4, Total 23-249; USF - Mitchell 1-55, Williams 3-23, Johnson 2-23, Jackson 3-15, Hill 1-14, Edwards 1-5, Total 11-135.