Chris Robinson was supposed to be covering the running back, but when he saw West Virginia quarterback Pat White in front of him, deep in Mountaineers territory, he improvised.
Trailing 6-0 in the second quarter, the redshirt freshman stripped the ball from White - only the eighth lost fumble this year by West Virginia - and defensive end George Selvie scooped it up for a 9-yard touchdown, giving USF its first lead in Saturday's upset.
"He was supposed to cover the back in the flat, but when he saw he'd gone too far, he said, 'I'm going to go ahead and just rush the passer,' " defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. "That's one of those attaboys. 'Don't do it again.' "
Robinson, who had played defensive end all season but shifted to linebacker last week because of an injury to senior Patrick St. Louis, said he tried to make the most of the play once he was out of position.
"If that ever happens, they say just get the quarterback," said Robinson, a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder who entered the game with five sacks. "He tried to swim me, but luckily I saw the ball and swatted it down out of his hand and George picked it up."
Forcing turnovers was a priority for the Bulls against West Virginia, and Robinson's sack was his fourth forced fumble this season, matching the record set by linebacker Ben Moffitt last year.
"That was our whole scheme, to get turnovers, to make sure their offense wasn't on the field," Robinson said. "All week, they told us if we did that, it would take care of everything else."
USF's defense held No. 8 Louisville to just its fourth scoreless quarter all season Nov. 18, but the Bulls trailed 6-0 in the second quarter before Robinson set up their first defensive touchdown this year.
"That was big, real big," coach Jim Leavitt said of Robinson and Selvie. "Those are both freshmen."
Robinson is in position to take over for senior Stephen Nicholas at strongside linebacker next season, but the coaches shifted him to defensive end this year, wanting to get a superior athlete on the field. On Saturday, he gave a promising glimpse of USF's future, in a crucial position in the containment of West Virginia's offense.
"We're young on defense, but we're growing up together, and that's going to help us out a lot down the road," he said.