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Moise Plancher carries South Florida Bulls past Rutgers 28-27

TAMPA

Since the Bulls were calves, he has been here.

Back when Ponce de Leon stopped by on a recruiting visit, he was here. Before the invention of swamp grass, or mosquitoes, or tourists complaining about them, he has been here. Before grouper nuggets, he has been here.

He was here when the USF campus looked different, and when the program looked different, and when the coaching staff looked different. Five offensive coordinators have been here, and four of them have left, and still he is here. He has been here so long he can even remember when the Bulls beat Rutgers, back in his redshirt season of 2005.

And yet Moise Plancher, the forever back, has never been bigger.

For all of his seasons of being a Bull — and if you are scoring at home, this is No. 6 — this is the game that Plancher will talk about when he is 70 years old and playing with his grandchildren. This was the night when he scooted and skittered through the Rutgers defense, dodging and dashing and turning a losable game into a victory. This was a night when even his fumbles could not go wrong.

Not bad for an old guy, was it?

This was Mo Plancher's night. This was the game he has stuck around for, through all of the changes and all of the injuries and all of the dark moments of wondering. Against Rutgers, Plancher, all 5-8 of him, was the biggest player on the field.

On a night when the Bulls had trouble throwing, and trouble defending, and trouble covering punts, Plancher forgave all shortcomings in a 28-27 victory over Rutgers.

Plancher ran for 135 yards, a career high, on 21 carries, a career high. He caught three passes for another 45 yards. More important, Plancher seemed to be making most of the big plays on most of USF's key drives. Time after time, he would jitterbug through the line, ducking underneath this tackle and darting past that one, putting the Mo in USF's momentum.

How do you tell when a guy's having a night? How about this: Plancher fumbled twice inside the Rutgers 10. Teammates recovered them both. On the last one, lineman Jacob Sims fell on the ball for a touchdown. Yeah, fate seemed to repaying Plancher for a lot of his pain.

"I just felt that if I kept trying, my time would come," said Plancher, a very old 23. "I still believed I could play."

He blew out his right knee, and that didn't change. He dislocated his right elbow, and that didn't change. He had shoulder surgery, and that didn't change. He kept plugging, and he kept working, and he kept waiting.

"This makes up for all of it," he said. "But I still think I could have played better. I fumbled twice. If we had lost, I would have put it all on me."

No one else would have. On a team that doesn't have enough flash, Plancher had plenty. On a team that hasn't demonstrated enough fire, Plancher had more than enough. And when you think about it, wouldn't you expect a guy named Moise to part the red D?

The truth of it is that USF needed everything Plancher could offer. For much of the night, the Bulls seemed to remind everyone that, as teams go, this one is still incomplete. It isn't as explosive as it needs to be, and it isn't as powerful, and it isn't as fundamentally sound. It gave up a touchdown on a trick play. It gave up another when five members of the punt coverage team were actually behind the punt returner as he caught the ball and ran away.

To put it another way, USF coach Skip Holtz still has a lot of work to do.

Because of Plancher, that's probably a little easier for USF fans to hear today. For all of their shortcomings, the Bulls have pulled themselves back into bowl contention with a 5-3 record. As records go, 5-3 says a team is a little bit more good than bad, which seems to be a perfect description of the program as it exists in 2010.

From here, a winning record is attainable. From here, a bowl game is attainable. Had USF lost to Rutgers and fallen to 4-4, it would have been easy to doubt either goal.

For the Bulls, this was indeed a big game. And yet, for most of the night, they found their season in doubt. For most of the night, they looked, well, forgettable. For most of the night, nothing came easy.

Given that, of course it came down to Plancher. Nothing has come easy to him for years.

He was four carries into his college career, remember, when he wrecked a knee. After that, college football seemed content to go on without him. Plancher was stuck on a shelf in the shadows and, at the time, it would have been easy to forget about him.

But college football isn't just about five-star recruits on their way to being No. 1 draft choices. It's about the behind-the-scene moments where a back works to reclaim what was his. It's about hanging around and toughing it out and trying to heal old wounds. It's about a back who came back. Those are the stories that seem to strike a chord with most fans.

Frankly, USF can use a little more of this. It can use this kind of grit, this kind of spark, this kind of competitiveness.

With four games left, it can use all the Moise Plancher it can get.

Moise Plancher carries South Florida Bulls past Rutgers 28-27 11/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 1:04am]

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