Photo courtesy of South Florida athletics
For South Florida football fans, the 2007 season is one they’ll never forget. Although the season didn’t end on a high note, the Bulls ascended to No. 2 in the country.
Perhaps its most memorable win and first-ever over a top-5 team came on this day 15 years ago. South Florida raced to a big early lead before holding off No. 5 West Virginia, 21-13.
Setting the Stage
Under Jim Leavitt, the only coach the program had ever had, the Bulls were off to a 3-0 start as they arrived at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 28, 2007. USF was coming off a rout of North Carolina after winning at No. 17 Auburn earlier in the year.
After debuting in the AP Poll for the first time ever the week prior, South Florida came in ranked No. 18. After beating No. 9 Louisville in 2005 and No. 7 West Virginia in 2006, the Bulls were looking to beat a top-10 team for the third straight season.
At 4-0 and ranked No. 5 in the country, West Virginia had not played a game decided by less than 17 points. Early on, it was clear that the Mountaineers were in for a dog fight.
Bulls Do It Again
Entering the contest, West Virginia was averaging more than 330 yards rushing. On a Friday night in Tampa, the Bulls cut that nearly in half while forcing six turnovers.
Linebacker Ben Moffitt came away with two interceptions. His first, off Pat White, was returned 26 yards for a touchdown to get the scoring started.
Up 7-0 after a quarter, USF doubled its lead with less than 10 minutes to play in the second on Matt Grothe’s 55-yard touchdown pass to Carlton Mitchell. For West Virginia, things went from bad to worse when White was forced to leave with an injury.
With Jarrett Brown now in at quarterback, West Virginia got on the board late in the half with a Pat McAfee field goal. USF, however, responded by taking the second half kickoff and going down the field for a touchdown. Jamar Taylor’s 19-yard touchdown capped a 13-play drive and pushed the lead to 21-3.
After McAfee’s second field goal, West Virginia finally found the end zone with less than six minutes to play in the game. Brown capped an 85-yard scoring drive with a 9-yard touchdown toss to Darius Reynaud.
Trailing by eight, West Virginia marched to inside the USF 40-yard-line on its final drive. After a sack of Brown by George Selvie, consecutive incomplete passes gave the ball back to the Bulls, who proceeded to run out the clock.
The Mountaineers held the edge in yards, first downs and time of possession. Six turnovers, however, including three in USF territory, proved too much to overcome.
Box score and recap:
South Florida would start 6-0 and ascend to No. 2 in the country. The Bulls ultimately followed that with three straight losses. After winning three straight to get back into the polls, South Florida fell to Oregon in the Sun Bowl to finish 9-4 and unranked.
West Virginia bounced back with six straight wins and ascended to No. 2 itself. A loss to rival Pittsburgh in the regular season finale would ultimately cost the Mountaineers a chance to play for a national championship.
West Virginia closed the year with a Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, an 11-2 record and a top-10 national ranking. One of its two losses came on a Friday night in Tampa 15 years ago.