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South Florida Bulls one step short 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 a factor.

In the end, it was another self-inflicted loss for USF, which lost 13-7 Saturday night, coming up empty on three 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, allowing two field goals after WVU's 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," USF 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."

After the game, the Bulls accepted an invitation to play in the inaugural St. Petersburg Bowl, close to home at Tropicana Field on Dec. 20.

USF gained 356 yards but didn't score in the second half. The Bulls have just 70 points in their past five games — including four losses — for the lowest-scoring stretch in the program's 12-year history.

Before the final drive, the Bulls (7-5, 2-5 Big East) 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.

The Mountaineers (8-4, 5-2) got a strong turnout of 48,019 despite the weather, sending off 19 seniors in their home finale.

USF took two of its biggest problems this season — turnovers and red-zone inefficiency — and combined them in the first half. The Bulls' opening drive went 13 plays, but stopped on Ford's fumble.

"We did a lot of really good things," offensive coordinator Greg Gregory said. "We've had some really bad mistakes at inopportune times."

USF missed opportunities on special teams, too. Twice, Bulls 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 the interception. Given 33 seconds, West Virginia hurried down the field and got a 45-yard field goal for a 10-7 halftime lead.

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, 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 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, USF is in its fourth consecutive bowl, something only two other Big East schools — Rutgers and West Virginia — can boast.

"It works out well for our fans, having an additional game in the Tampa Bay area," athletic director Doug Woolard said. "It's an inaugural bowl, and being tied in with ESPN, it's another great television opportunity."

W.Virginia 13

USF 7

South Florida Bulls one step short at West Virginia 12/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 8, 2008 11:17am]

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