Fourth-down gambles paid off for Bulls
A pair of fourth-down gambles played huge roles in USF's 30-19 win against No. 20 West Virginia, with the first setting up the Bulls' first touchdown and a bigger gamble leading to USF's final points.
After the victory, USF coach Jim Leavitt recognized both the importance of going for it and also the incredible risk involved, should the Bulls not have converted.
"It's pretty stupid to do what I did I think, probably," Leavitt said. "First time, it was really probably foolish, but we got it. I really wanted to get a spark going and something happening. ... It really opened up the game."
The first fourth down came on USF's first drive, as the Bulls, already trailing 7-0, faced a fourth and 1 from its 49. The Bulls lined up with three running backs -- Mo Plancher, with Mike Ford and Richard Kelly lined up as blocking backs. All three backs ran to the left side, with Ford getting a key block to help Plancher gain 2 yards for the first down. On the next play, the Bulls scored as B.J. Daniels found Carlton Mitchell open for a 49-yard touchdown.
The bigger risk came on the second play of the fourth quarter, as USF led 27-19 and faced another fourth and 1, from its own 41. Daniels had hit Bogan for a 6-yard gain, and Leavitt was unhappy with the spot from the officials, who took a measurement and found the Bulls an inch short.
"I was not going to let that ball placement stop us," Leavitt said. "That just bothered me. That was more me just being angry. You've got to be careful. If a person punted in that situation, they're probably doing the right thing. All you have to do is bobble the snap, they get a push or something like that, and all the sudden, you lose a football game. I thought we had that first down. I was sitting there going 'That far? You've got to be kidding me.'"
West Virginia stacked the line of scrimmage, but Daniels got just enough on a straightahead keeper to get the first down. Seven plays later and with nearly three minutes off the clock, USF got a 44-yard field goal from kicker Eric Schwartz to make it a two-score lead for the Bulls.
USF entered the game second in the nation in fourth-down conversion percentage, having converted 6 of 7 previous fourth-down attempts -- only Central Florida (2-for-2) had been better. West Virginia's opponents had converted on just four of 10 fourth-down attempts before Friday's game.
West Virginia, by comparison, was cautious -- facing a fourth and 1 at the USF 38 in the first quarter, the Mountaineers opted to punt, setting up a safety, and on the drive before USF's second fourth-down gamble, West Virginia had a fourth and 8 at the USF 33, but opted to punt. The punt went into the end zone for a touchback, so the Mountaineers gave up a chance at a game-tying score to ultimately get 13 yards in field position.
Leavitt said the risks of being second-guessed keep many coaches from taking such gambles, but he felt he needed to go for it, to take a chance to help his team win.
"Even if you get ridiculed for those things, people don't worry about it as much, because you win," he said. "You lose, then you have to go jump off the Skyway or something. I don't mean that, but ... when it works, the decisions, it's OK. If it doesn't, then you might as well forget it, because you're done. You can't do those things."