TAMPA – Just minutes after USF’s 27-10 win over Syracuse on Saturday, it was forgotten.
Coach Jim Leavitt marched into the media conference room and eventually began talking about next Saturday’s opponent: a road game at No. 10 Louisville.
“I’m disappointed where not 10-0 right now,” Leavitt said. “I wish we were in a little better position right now than we are. I wanted to be at this point where we play Louisville with everything on the line.”
The Bulls (7-3, 3-2) outgained the Orange (3-7, 0-5) on offense 514 to 250 yards and are likely headed to the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 23, were still thinking about the Cardinals. Not about the 45-14 stunner in 2005, but that USF met Louisville three times in the past three years, and are 2-1 against them.
“I imagine we’ll get a bowl bid,” said Leavitt, who is two win away from 70 career wins as a coach. “I’m not really thinking about that right now. Now let’s play for a championship because stranger things have happened since the beginning of time.”
Leavitt added a lot of those strange things have to happen for USF to get that shot: The Bulls must win out the rest of their season, No. 7 Rutgers would have to lose its last three games and No. 8 West Virginia would have to lose Pittsburgh on Thursday.
“There’s going to be a lot of doubters about next (Saturday),” Grothe said. “I mean, just look at what we’ve done and they’ve done this year. It’s going to be a good game; it’s just going to come down to whose offense outperforms whose offense.”
But it was of no consequence that it was Senior Day for 11 players at Raymond James Stadium in front of a 29,694 crowd. Seniors such as linebackers Stephen Nicholas (seven tackles, a sack and an interception) and Pat St. Louis (four tackles), quarterback Pat Julmiste (3-yard touchdown run) and tight end Will Bleakley (two catches for 27 yards) still shined.
It didn’t matter that records were being broken all over the place such as Matt Grothe destroying the freshman passing record (1,620 yard by Marquel Blackwell) and surpassing passing yards in a game (360, also by Blackwell). Grothe had 364 passing yards against the Orange and with two games remaining, has 1,979 yards. Nicholas also set a new Bulls’ record for most career tackles for a loss with 48.5.
Then with time expiring in the second quarter, kicker Delbert Alvarado hit a 56-yard field goal in the same stadium, towards the same end zone Buccaneers kicker Matt Bryant hit a game-winning 62-yard field goal on Oct. 22. It was the longest field goal in Big East history.
“I was looking at it, and I was like, ‘That’s not going to make it,'” Alvarado said. “But my holder (quarterback Anthony Severino) said, ‘That’s in, brother.’ I was leaning with the ball, helping it go in, and then everyone pummeled me on the field.”It was the second-longest field goal in school history, behind Bill Gramatica’s 63-yarder in 2000.
“(I) just did my routine – kept my head down,” said Alvarado, who is 3-for-4 on field goals this season. “I didn’t think about (Bryant). I knew I was standing on the (Bucs) flag (painted on the 50-yard line), and was like, ‘OK.’ But I just kicked it, and I didn’t know it was good until the student section went crazy.”
Even though they were ready to move on, the Bulls weren’t happy with their play. They had three turnovers – two fumbles and an interception – and were only leading by 10 points going into halftime. But the defense kept Syracuse out of the end zone until the fourth quarter, while the offense didn’t have punt till the same time.
The offense, led by Grothe, who accounted for 409 of USF’s 514 yards and went 25-of-35 passing, stumbled some throughout the game with a few dropped passes, but did include a 79-yard touchdown catch by Taurus Johnson. The score was the second-longest catch in team history.
“We got to get ready to play, because Louisville can be just any old team,” said Johnson, whose 131 receiving yards is the second-most by a USF receiver. They ranked (10th) in the country right now, but we are 2-1 against them. We have to adjust and play our game.”
Grothe knows the mistakes can be fixed.
“(We played good at times, and others, we be fixing to score, and the we shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times,” Grothe said. “We’ll get that straightened out and be ready to go (against Louisville).”