MIAMI — No. 13 South Florida (4-0) went into Miami as a four-touchdown favorite to beat Florida International (0-3), a team that has won once in its last 27 games.
An ineffective red-zone offense and problems holding onto the football plagued the Bulls on Saturday as they left the new FIU Stadium with a 17-9 win.
USF coach Jim Leavitt said he was very upset with the way his team performed.
“We played about as bad as you can play,” he said. “I really don’t see how we could have played any worse. We won a ballgame, but we’re not real happy about it.”
The Bulls’ woes began on the third play of the game, when sophomore running back Jamar Taylor fumbled. After a fumble by junior running back Moise Plancher, Leavitt put sophomore Mike Ford in the game — the first action Ford has seen in two weeks.
USF had five possessions in the FIU red zone but only had 17 points against a defense that was allowing 42 points per game before Saturday.
“We didn’t play the way we wanted to play, and we didn’t execute the way we wanted to execute,” USF offensive coordinator Greg Gregory said. “We had the ball down there enough to put this game away, but we didn’t get it done.”
Junior quarterback Matt Grothe — who had two consecutive games with at least 350 yards of total offense — managed just 184 yards and no touchdowns against an FIU team that allows more than 500 yards per game.
“We moved the ball well all night, but when we got into the red zone where it mattered, we just couldn’t punch it in,” Grothe said.
In the third quarter, Grothe was stopped at the goal line on a fourth-down play that would have given USF a 17-0 lead.
“It was embarrassing,” Leavitt said. “We just didn’t get across the goal line. I mean, we had it down there and we couldn’t even get eight inches to get into the end zone.”
The Bulls had a 17-0 lead with 2:35 remaining, but for the third consecutive week, they saw their opponent make a late scoring run.
After a safety gave the Golden Panthers their first two points, a 61-yard pass from Wayne Younger to T.Y. Hilton set up a two-yard touchdown.
“You can tell kids all day long how to prepare and they still won’t believe you,” USF defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “But, that’s how it is.”
Leavitt said he didn’t want to let FIU score.
“We gave up seven points, but we should have been better,” he said. “We should have shut out a team like FIU.”
The Bulls also had several key players injured Saturday. Senior linebacker Brouce Mompremier suffered a neck injury, and the game was delayed for nearly 15 minutes as he was taken off the field in an ambulance.
Cornerback Tyller Roberts (ankle), safety Carlton Williams (hip), defensive end George Selvie (ankle) and defensive tackle Terrell McClain (leg) were all starting defensive players that suffered injuries.
“We got to a point where we were just going down the line to see who we had left,” Burnham said. “We had a lot of guys go down.”