Stopped cold: Bulls lose 13-7 at West Virginia
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The snow and freezing temperatures weren't a factor. West Virginia quarterback Pat White, playing in his final home game, wasn't really the deciding factor.
In the end, it was another self-inflicted loss for USF, which took a frustrating 13-7 defeat on Saturday night, coming up empty on three different trips inside the West Virginia 20.
"We shot ourselves in the foot all night," quarterback Matt Grothe said. "I thought we played well for the environment we had. We drove the ball all night long, but we couldn't finish drives, and when you can't do that, it's hard to win games."
USF's defense, which had keyed wins against West Virginia in the past two seasons, stepped up again, holding West Virginia to two field goals after a touchdown on the opening drive. Grothe's last shot at a winning touchdown ended at the 16-yard line, when his fourth-down pass to receiver Taurus Johnson fell incomplete with 24.4 seconds left.
"I thought we played well enough to win," coach Jim Leavitt said. "We were in position to win the football game at the end, which is what we wanted. ... We had our chances, but we just didn't get it done at the end."
USF's next game, if nothing else, will be warmer. After the loss, the Bulls accepted an invitation to play in the inaugural St. Petersburg Bowl, close to home at Tropicana Field on Dec. 20.
The Bulls offense piled up 356 yards and converted 11 third downs, but didn't score in the second half. The Bulls have scored just 70 points in their last five games -- including four losses -- for the lowest-scoring stretch in the program's 12-year history.
Before falling short on the final drive, the Bulls (7-5, 2-5 in Big East) had turned the ball over twice inside the 20 -- running back Mike Ford fumbled at the 6-yard line on USF's first drive, and Grothe threw an interception in the end zone at the end of the first half.
"We did a lot of really good things," offensive coordinator Greg Gregory said. "We've had some really bad mistakes at inopportune times."
The Mountaineers (8-4, 5-2) got a strong turnout of 48,019 fans despite the harsh weather, sending off 19 seniors in their final home game.
USF missed opportunities on special teams, too. Twice, Bulls players were in position to block punts but instead missed and roughed the punter -- once in the end zone -- to give the Mountaineers a first down.
With a 7-7 tie late in the half, Grothe led the Bulls to the Mountaineer 15, but threw an interception in the end zone. Given 33 seconds, West Virginia hurried down the field and got a 45-yard field goal for a 10-7 halftime lead.
"If we don't give up a field goal there, then that last play, we might be kicking a field goal to tie it and put it in overtime," defensive coordinator Wally Burnham. "Overall, they probably played well enough to win. That's what you want to try to do is play well, give yourself a chance to win at the end. I think our kids, defensively, did that."
The Bulls got a break in the fourth quarter, as West Virginia had made it to the USF 22 when a bad snap got past White, and defensive end George Selvie recovered for the Bulls. The offense couldn't convert anything, as Grothe had receiver A.J. Love deep on third down but overthrew him, forcing a punt.
With a proven scheme and solid tackling, USF kept the Mountaineers' running game in check -- they came in averaging 224 yards per game, but had just 139 yards on 40 carries. The Bulls also took away the Mountaineers' big-play threats, giving up no play longer than 26 yards.
The temperature at kickoff was 28 degrees, five colder than the previous low, set at Connecticut in a 2005 loss. A light snow persisted throughout the game, also a first for the Bulls.
With just two weeks to prepare, it will be USF's fourth consecutive bowl, something only two other Big East schools -- Rutgers and West Virginia -- can boast.
"It's kind of bittersweet, because you want to win a game," Leavitt said. "For me, it's real special to be able to go to the magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl. I grew up in St. Petersburg, probably 10 minutes from where this bowl game's going to be. The people in the Tampa Bay area are an incredible group. We've been to the Meineke, been to the Sun, Papa John's. All those three places are not going to be as warm as St. Petersburg, I can assure you. That's one thing that will be kind of nice."