By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
December 3, 2005
TAMPA – Last week, Connecticut coach Randy Edsall joked that his team helped West Virginia get into a BCS bowl game when the Huskies upset South Florida, 15-10. Well, it turns out West Virginia didn’t need any help at all, defeating the fired-up Bulls 28-13 Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to wrap up the Big East’s first undefeated season since Miami did it in 2002.
“Our guys didn’t want to lose this game and have everybody say, ‘What would have happened if USF beat UConn?’ They wanted to win this outright and win all the Big East games,” said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. “We had the one slip up against Virginia Tech and other than that, it’s been pretty special.”
No. 12-ranked West Virginia (10-1, 7-0) became only the third team in school history to post 10 regular season victories (1988 and 1993) and put an exclamation point on a season that is most likely headed to the Sugar Bowl to face Georgia on Jan. 2.
Prior to this year, West Virginia had won shares of Big East titles in 2003 and 2004 before winning its first outright conference title since the 1993 Sugar Bowl team went 11-0.
“I thought our team was focused all week and we had good practices,” said Rodriguez of his team clinching the conference title a week early. “I had real good feeling in our meetings. We showed them a highlight tape the night before and our guys were into that and enjoying that. They’ve been focused all year.”
Freshman quarterback Pat White showed once again why he is going to be a handful for opponents in the future, ripping off touchdown runs of 65 and 76 yards in the second half and throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to Darius Reynaud in the first half. White finished the game rushing for 177 yards and he also completed 5 of 10 passes for 89 yards and a TD -- most of it coming in the first half.
West Virginia took the opening kickoff and drove 65 yards in 12 plays, all on the ground from Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt and White. The big play was a Slaton 26-yard run to USF four. Two plays later on third and goal, Slaton walked into the end zone from a yard out. Pat McAfee’s PAT gave West Virginia a 7-0 lead.
The Mountaineers wasted a scoring opportunity on its next possession when they got to the USF 10, but McAfee’s 27-yard field goal was hooked left.
South Florida (6-5, 4-3), as it did for most of the game, went on a long drive that lasted 14 plays and covered 74 yards, but the Bulls stalled inside the West Virginia five. A pair of Andre Hall runs moved the ball to the one, but an illegal procedure moved the ball back to the six to give the Bulls a third and goal. Quarterback Pat Julmiste’s third-down pass fell incomplete, forcing Kyle Bronson to kick a 22-yard field goal at the start of the second quarter.
A botched punt attempt by South Florida set up West Virginia for its second touchdown at the Mountaineer 33.
A White screen pass to Brandon Myles netted 17 yards to the USF 13, and West Virginia eventually got into the end zone when White found Reynaud open for 7 yards. It took West Virginia nine plays to go 33 yards in 4:40.
West Virginia led 14-3 at halftime.
South Florida took the second half kick and once again went on a long drive covering 53 yards in 10 plays, but the West Virginia defense stood its ground in the red zone. On first and goal at the WVU eight, three straight Andre Hall runs got the ball to the two. South Florida opted for another Bronson field goal, this time from 19 yards.
That’s when White shut the door. On West Virginia’s first play from scrimmage at the 35, White kept and option, ran right into the teeth of the USF blitz and outran the defense for a 65-yard touchdown.
White’s second TD run was the back breaker, weaving his way 76 yards for a pretty score that was his longest TD run of the year. McAfee’s PAT gave the Mountaineers a 28-6 lead with 11:30 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“That was one of those highlight-reel-put-it-on-ESPN-top-plays kind of run,” said Rodriguez of White’s long jaunt. “He’s obviously got some speed but his ability to make guys miss and change directions going full speed. He’s not a running back playing quarterback – he’s a quarterback that can run.”
South Florida put up a late touchdown with 1:20 left in the game when backup quarterback Carlton Hill ran for an 11-yard score.
The Bulls had the ball for nearly the entire second half as West Virginia ran just 17 offensive plays. South Florida finished the game with an 81-54 advantage in total plays, but West Virginia out-gained USF, 394-370.
“USF played hard – they’ve got a lot of athletes and we knew we were going to get a good shot from them and we did,” Rodriguez said.
In addition to White’s 177 yards rushing, Slaton ran 28 times for 86 yards and Schmitt carried 5 times for 42 yards.
Reynaud was WVU’s top receiver with 3 catches for 39 yards.
West Virginia held the Big East’s top rusher Andre Hall to just 75 yards on 20 carries. Backup quarterback Carlton Hill ran 15 times for 50 yards.
Hill was 10 of 21 for 98 yards and starter Pat Julmiste was 9 of 17 for 123 yards.
USF's Jackie Chambers caught 5 passes for 94 yards to lead all receivers.
White has rushed for 397 yards in West Virginia’s last two wins against Pitt and South Florida and finishes the regular season with 875 yards on just 107 carries. Slaton ran for 924 regular-season yards on 199 carries – nearly all of them from the Virginia Tech game on. Slaton’s 14 rushing touchdowns were the most by a WVU tailback since Avon Cobourne ran for 17 in 2002.
West Virginia was a perfect 5-0 on the road this year.
“I don’t think there were a whole lot of folks that expected us to win 10 games this year and the guys in that room really believed that they could do it,” Rodriguez said.
Safety Jahmile Addae, a Valerico native playing in front of friends and family, unofficially recorded 9 tackles to lead the defense along with Mike Lorello. Addae, Dee McCann and Larry Williams collected interceptions. Defensive back Antonio Lewis produced the team’s only sack.
An USF record crowd of 45,274 made up of a good number of West Virginia fans witnessed the game.
West Virginia now prepares for its first major bowl appearance in 11 years and its first BCS bowl game since the Bowl Championship Series was formed.
“This means a lot,” said Rodriguez. “(Going to a BCS game) is one of our major goals every year and to accomplish it with a young football team and a team that not a lot of people predicted much from is pretty special.”
WV – Slaton 1 run (McAfee kick)
Rushing: WV - White 11-177, Slaton 28-86, Schmitt 5-42, Total 44-305; USF – Hall 20-75, Hill 15-50, Julmiste 6-22, Ponton 1-6, Total 43-149.
Passing: WV – White 5-10-1-89-1; USF – Julmiste 9-17-123-1-0, Julmiste 9-17-1-123-0, Total 19-38-3-221-0.
Receiving: WV – Reynaud 3-39, Bolden 1-33, Myles 1-17, Total 5-89; USF – Chambers 5-94, Hall 3-15, Green 2-25, Hill 2-24, Hester 2-19, Peyton 1-16, Ruegger 1-14, Ponton 1-6, Jackson 1-4, Edwards 1-4, Total 19-221.
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