There was Maikon Bonani drilling a 37-yard field goal to win the game in overtime, and there were all his teammates running out on the field to pigpile him after another win that seemed to defy the odds. Or maybe that's how it was supposed to happen.
I think the one thing we can say for certain is that Skip Holtz is everything we hoped he would be. The Bulls always have a good plan, the team is always playing hard, and they have a way of making the exact plays they need to win games. If you just look at the body of today's work, maybe on a stat sheet, there's no way USF should have beaten Louisville. But it was the timing of their big plays that was so important.
When the Cardinals were up 14-3 and the Bulls could barely move the ball, Lindsey Lamar broke off an amazing 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to keep them in the game. When Louisville was driving twice in USF territory in the third quarter, the defense came up with huge plays. First, Patrick Hampton tipped Justin Burke's hand and forced a wobbly pass that was intercepted by Jerrell Young. Then on the next drive, Jacquian Williams got his hand up in front of Dominique Brown (in the game as part of the Cardinals' "Wild Card" package) and deflected a pass intended for a wide-open Cameron Graham. Louisville would have probably been inside the 10-yard line -- instead, Ryne Giddins ran under the ball for another critical interception.
They take advantage of brief windows of opportunity, too. USF scored 10 crucial points after bad Louisville punts. (By the way, the wind blowing from right to left across the field had to have been a lot stronger than anyone realized. Most of the punts from left to right were disasters, while most of the punts from right to left were missiles.) After a very short Chris Philpott punt in the second quarter, the Bulls were set up at the Louisville 26 and kicked a field goal even after a three-and-out.
Then, of course, the touchdown pass to Dontavia Bogan, The Annexation of Puerto Rico as Toro called it, the play you knew was eventually coming as USF continued to run the ball over and over again. After Philpott popped up another hideous punt, the Bulls had a 1st and 10 at the Louisville 48, and B.J. Daniels and Bogan teamed up to make, hands down, the throw and catch of the year for USF. It wasn't even blown coverage, it was a fantastic 60-yard laser from Daniels and an amazing tumbling catch by Bogan just before crossing the end line. (Despite the protests of Cardinals fans, it was a touchdown -- Bogan secured the ball when he hit the ground, and he hadn't skidded out of the back of the end zone yet.). It was the kind of play you cannot adequately defend.
And everything that happened after Louisville tied the game on the first ever wind-aided back shoulder fade I've ever seen. Andreas Shields running a kickoff back 40 yards as an upback. Bonani making and then missing a 52-yard field goal at the end of regulation after Charlie Strong pulled what had to be the first bitch move of his life and Shanahaned him with a timeout. The defensive stand when Strong decided to go for it on fourth and inches in overtime. And then Bonani coming back and booting the game winner right down the middle.
I'm going to remember one moment from this game for a long time. Sabbath Joseph got called for a justified but pretty weak fair catch interference penalty in the last five minutes of regulation when he tapped knees with Doug Beaumont. Last year, the head coach probably goes berserk and throws his headset and visor and runs out to the numbers to start screaming at the official. This year, Holtz was out at the numbers with his headset off, but he was calmly calling Joseph back to the sideline with a smile on his face. The obvious message was, "Don't worry about it, don't lose your cool, keep playing, we'll overcome this."
Even if USF doesn't win the conference, and the odds are not really in their favor, I think this season is going to go down as a big success. These aren't exactly "learning how to win" games because the Bulls have won plenty of games the last five years. Plus, as I've said about other teams in the Big East who I'm usually skeptical of, you can't depend on always winning close games like these last three. But the team is learning how to win the way that Skip Holtz and his staff want them to win games -- by being prepared and composed. You can win games with sheer intensity and athleticism, as we've seen in Auburn and Tallahassee. You just can't win championships that way. Whatever happens in the last four games (and it is four games now, as USF became bowl-eligible yesterday), this season is looking like the one where the Bulls finally learn that lesson.