USF players held the first row of the railing at Doak Campbell Stadium amid a steady rain Saturday afternoon, encouraging the same steady chant that ricocheted over and over again from nearly 12,000 fans wearing green:
“USF… USF … USF.”
It didn’t stop for quite a while after the game.
USF coach Jim Leavitt, still soaked in Gatorade, trotted off the field with a smile on his face while offensive coordinator Mike Canales and redshirt freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels shared an embrace in the south corner of the stadium.
That’s how big USF’s 17-7 upset over No. 18 Florida State in Tallahassee was, as the Bulls moved closer to making Florida a “Big Four” rather than a “Big Three.”
“It changes history,” Leavitt said. “I don’t think there’s any question about it. I’ve went on record saying you have to beat one of them. You can’t come close … If people ask me, ‘should (USF) be in the “Big Four”?’ I say at least we should be talked about once in a while like we’re a team that’s competitive.”
USF offensive coordinator Mike Canales, a member of the program’s original coaching staff, said a win over FSU shows how far the school has come.
“It speaks volumes for this program,” he said. “The sky is the limit.”
A USF record crowd of nearly 12,000 road fans showed up at Doak Campbell Stadium, watching USF’s defense make big play after big play and frustrate FSU quarterback Christian Ponder. Leavitt said walking off the field and looking at the fans made him emotional.
“Unbelievable. I was in tears at the end of the game,” he said. “When I looked up in that crowd and I saw how many people from South Florida were there, I about broke … They deserved it.”
Daniels, a Tallahassee native making his first start for USF, totaled 341 yards of offense and threw two touchdowns while filling in for the injured Matt Grothe.
“I was just excited to be out there and play hard for my team,” Daniels said. “All week I’ve been preaching (that) it’s not about me, it’s about the Bulls stepping up and making a name for ourselves. The homecoming or whatever you want to call it, it was nice to come back home and play in front of my fans, friends and family, but it was much bigger than that.”
Daniels answered many questions about whether he could handle the pressure, hitting receiver Theo Wilson for a 77-yard gain early in the second quarter to set up an 8-yard touchdown pass to Ben Busbee to give the Bulls a 7-0 lead.
Later in the half, Daniels delivered another long throw to freshman Sterling Griffin, who got behind the FSU secondary for a 73-yard touchdown to give the Bulls a 14-0 halftime lead.
The USF defense sacked Ponder five times, recovered four fumbles, and made a short-yardage goal line stand in the second quarter just before USF’s first score. Defensive coordinator Joe Tresey was taken aback by his defense’s performance Saturday.
“Our kids, they played relentless for four quarters,” he said. “I don’t know what more to say. When you play that type of effort and relentlessness and you just go, go, go and you just put the pedal to the metal for four quarters, something good is going to happen for you … Their effort was just unbelievable.”
FSU coach Bobby Bowden said he was impressed with USF, which entered the game as a two-touchdown underdog.
“They’re good, they beat the heck out of us,” said Bowden, who is second on college football’s all-time wins list. “They whooped us. They’re a whole lot better than I thought.”
The crowd of 83, 524 was the second largest USF has played in front of in school history, and it was the program’s first win over either Miami, Florida State or the University of Florida. USF plays Miami on Nov. 28 at Raymond James Stadium.
Leavitt said one win against an in-state opponent can’t change a lot unless USF continues to win. However, he said he was proud to see how far things have come in the football program’s 13-year history.
“We built our program from grass roots. That’s just the way we’ve done it,” he said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the people we know who support us, whether we win or lose … I don’t think there’s any question, you talk about the Auburn, the West Virginia (wins), I don’t think there’s any question that this is the biggest.”