Since the beginning of the 2005 season, WVU has lost three games:
- Oct. 1, 2005: Virginia Tech 34, WVU 17
- Nov. 2, 2006: Louisville 44, WVU 34
- Nov. 25, 2006: South Florida 24, WVU 19
Of those three losses, the only one that still sticks in my craw is South Florida.
I think of the Virginia Tech game as the last of the Old Days: Against a measurably superior opponent, WVU would have needed to do everything right to stay even.
That’s the way it was for 20 years against Penn State and Pitt. In the VaTech game, WVU fumbled a punt near its goal line and Marcus Vick passed the Mountaineers silly.
(Hard to believe now that he turned out to be the good Vick.)
Against Louisville, meanwhile, an injured Steve Slaton helped fumble the game away and P Scott Kozlowski (is he still on scholarship?) punted the Cardinals a touchdown. You’re welcome.
But South Florida?
The Bulls just plain beat WVU.
And it was maddening to watch.
WVU averaged only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt, about half its average for the rest of the season. Slaton and Pat White couldn’t reach the edges, thanks to South Florida’s fast linebackers.
At one point, White tried to sidestep a rush and had the ball swatted out of his hand at the nine-yard-line...and then picked up and run back for a TD. Slaton also fumbled at the Bulls’ two as he was going in for a TD, and WVU botched a fake field goal.
All told, the Mountaineers had four turnovers, all lost—two fumbles, two picks.
For the past year (not all the time; just on and off), I've tried to figure out how USF did it. A number of my buddies, confident of a WVU win Friday night (ESPN2, 8 p.m.), have offered reasons why last year can't happen again:
- Last year, White injured his ankle, which is why he was held to 17 yards on 15 rushes. This year, he's healthy.
- Last year, WVU stubbornly stuck to its hit-the-edges offense too long—unlike this year in the Marshall game, when Coach Rod moved the game between the tackles in the second half and rammed it down their throats.
- Last year, WVU underestimated QB Matt Grothe. This year, we have one of his old coaches.
- Last year, WVU underestimated South Florida after beating them in 2005. WVU was overconfident coming off back-to-back blowout wins over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh...and was looking ahead to Rutgers.
So maybe last year really was a one-time fluke. For what it's worth, I've also heard plenty of reasons why WVU has the straight-up edge in 2007:
-South Florida ain’t all that—so far this season, they've beaten what has turned out to be a terrible Auburn team, a poor UNC team, and Elon. (Wha? Who?)
- WVU has lost only WR Brandon Myles (two TDs in last year’s game) while adding RBs Noel Devine and Jock Sanders and WR Brandon Hogan. They also have stronger, one-year-smarter versions of White, Slaton, Owen Schmitt, and Darius Reynaud.
- WVU’s defense is improved, and is now ranked 15th nationally.
- South Florida has lost some key defensive personnel.
- South Florida won't be able to handle the emotion of a sellout crowd, and an early WVU lead will take all the wind out of the fans’ and team’s sails.
Of course, that's not necessarily the end of the story. Arguing for the defense, let me say this:
- South Florida has fast Florida athletes, exactly the kind that can shut down the spread.
- South Florida has the top sack-man in the country in DE George Selvie, and a pair of shutdown cornerbacks whom many believe to be the best in the Big East.
- Raymond James Stadium will be nuts until WVU does something to quiet it down. (Question: Does South Florida get the benefit of the Bucs’ pirate-ship cannon?)
Two long analyses on ESPN.com Insider today broke down the game exhaustively (and I do mean exhaustively), and concluded that, although South Florida has made great strides...and although the game is in Tampa...and although the Bulls are athletic...WVU will simply end up being too much for USF.
ESPN called for a 27-21 Mountaineers' win.
I refuse to make predictions, because they’re meaningless—but I can’t help but remember my freshman year at WVU, during the 1981 season, when the Mountaineers started out 4-0 in Don Nehlen’s second year before hosting Pitt.
Excitement was running high on campus—especially, it seemed, on the fourth floor of Boreman South dorm, where I lived. One of the fellows on my floor was a guy named Dwayne Cato (sp?), a Jersey kid who'd been a tailback in high school.
Dwayne turned out to be the sole voice of reason.
I remember him actually taking bets from “hoopies” who thought WVU would win, saying, “WVU ain’t gonna beat no Pitt.”
WVU ending up losing 17-0, and was thoroughly dominated by the Panthers. I get the feeling much the same could happen here: an upstart program making its first appearance in the Top 25, hosting the No. 5 team in the country in front of a delirious crowd.
I wonder if there’s a Dwayne Cato at South Florida.