On the old blog site, I said, "Eventually we will explain what Voodoo 5 was. If you're a USF fan, you probably already know." For the rest of you, here is our story.
There aren't many instances where one single play perfectly defines a school's athletic history.
Voodoo 5 sums up USF athletics in about six seconds.
Oh sure, there have been some scarring moments in the history of our teams. Longtime fans who were around when USF didn't have football remember Virginia Commonwealth coming back from a 26-point deficit with 10 minutes left to beat the Bulls at the Sun Dome. They remember Chucky Atkins missing two free throws at Marquette with a trip to New York and the NIT semifinals on the line. When I was a student, we counted guys like Brian Wardle and Willie Taggart and Giovanni Carmazzi among our tormentors. In recent years, it's been an "illegal propulsion" foul at Rutgers, or Zach Collaros running about 1200 yards for a touchdown on a quarterback draw, or Craig Austrie's coast-to-coast buzzer-beater to spoil a perfectly good upset of UConn, or whatever the hell happened last night against N.C. State.
This was worse than all of those.
I think Voodoo 5 was even worse than Jim Leavitt getting fired. I mean, we had time to prepare for that. We saw what happened to Mark Mangino and Mike Leach in similar situations, and we knew it could happen to Leavitt, too. It sucked to see him go, but a couple of months after it happened, people are just about over it.
No one is over Voodoo 5. And it only took six seconds.
Rod Smith must have known something as he prepared for USF's first-ever Big East football game against 8th-ranked Louisville in 2005. The Bulls' offensive coordinator had to have seen how much their defense overpursued ballcarriers, because he had something ready for them on the night of September 24. He called an end-around, a reverse, and a reverse pass for Amarri Jackson, and all of them worked for touchdowns as USF crushed the Cardinals 45-14. It was the Bulls' first win against a ranked I-A team, and it was our first look at the Voodoo package.
After a non-conference loss to Miami and a tough, error-filled setback at Pittsburgh, USF's next game was postponed by Hurricane Wilma. That game with West Virginia was pushed back to the end of the season, which set up an interesting scenario. Pittsburgh had two conference losses, USF had already beaten Louisville, and West Virginia was still on the schedule. It meant the Bulls controlled their own destiny - run the table in their five remaining conference games and they would win the Big East in their first year in the league. It would make their first bowl appearance ever a BCS bowl appearance.
(Quick side note - if you have ever wanted the BCS to crash and burn and die a horribly painful death, this would have been your dream scenario. I think there would have been a full-on riot somewhere if USF had come breezing in the door and picked up a BCS bid after paying absolutely zero dues.)
First up was Rutgers. This was when Rutgers still stunk, and USF built a 21-0 lead in the first quarter before coasting in with a 45-31 win. One down, four to go.
Next was Syracuse. Andre Hall ran for 222 yards and the Bulls racked up 338 rushing yards in all, winning the game 27-0. Two down, three to go.
Then came Cincinnati. Jackson ran for another touchdown (possibly on another play from the Voodoo package), and the Bulls held the Bearcats under 200 yards until garbage time in a 31-16 victory. Three down, two to go.
By this point, everyone had figured out what was going on. Pressure was mounting. But a feeble Connecticut team, with only one conference win to their name, didn't look like much of a challenge.
November 26, 2005. They said the kickoff temperature at Rentschler Field in East Hartford was 33 degrees, but people who were there all swear it was a lot colder than that once the sun went down. At the time, it was the coldest game in USF history.
Connecticut has always been an interesting foil for the Bulls. USF is athletic, wide-open, and often undisciplined. Under Randy Edsall, UConn can't match many teams with sheer talent, but they play smart, close-to-the-vest football, and never beat themselves. This game was no exception. Lou Allen broke off a 60-yard touchdown run right out of the gate to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead. They added a safety later in the first quarter to increase the lead to 9-0. After a Pat Julmiste to S.J. Green touchdown pass in the second quarter, Darius Butler ran the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown to make the score 15-7.
With Connecticut stacking the line to stop the run, USF was forced to turn to its weak passing game, and mistakes piled up. Julmiste threw interceptions on consecutive drives. Julmiste and Amarri Jackson each lost fumbles. In all, the Bulls would turn the ball over five times in the game. But in between all that, Kyle Bronson hit a 42-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut the Huskies' lead to 15-10 and keep USF in range.
Meanwhile, UConn's offense bogged down completely in the second half, gaining only 62 yards. The hard-hitting game took its toll. Field position began to turn in USF's favor, and eventually Jackson ran a UConn punt all the way back to the Huskies' 8-yard line with 7:40 left in the game. The stage was set to steal another win and set up a showdown with the Mountaineers for an inexplicable BCS berth.
On first and goal, Andre Hall rushed for a yard. On second and goal, Julmiste ran for six more, to the Huskies' 1-yard line. Surely the Bulls, built to run the football that year, would punch it in and take the lead. But for some reason they tried to run a quick count and false started, backing them up to the 6. Now forced to pass, Julmiste threw incomplete on third down.
Instead of taking the field goal, USF decided to go for it on fourth and goal. A surprised Huskies defense called a timeout, and that gave Jim Leavitt and Rod Smith time to make a fateful decision.
They decided on Voodoo 5.
Courtney Denson lined up as a wide receiver on the left side. The Bulls' backup QB had no catches on the year and had barely played since early in the season. It was glaringly obvious why he was out there. He might as well have had a sign around his neck that said I AM NO THREAT AS A RECEIVER AND I MIGHT BE PART OF A TRICK PLAY. IF I GET THE BALL YOU SHOULD RUN AT ME AT FULL SPEED.
Julmiste took the snap and pitched to Andre Hall, then began fading right towards the end zone. Hall ran to the left side and reverse pitched to Denson, coming back across the middle.
Voodoo 5 didn't fool anyone. Denson looked to pass, but Julmiste was covered, and there was no other option. Chased by UConn's Dan Davis, Denson started running for his life and was hauled down at the 19. Loss of 13. Turnover on downs.
It was a drop-your-cup-in-slow-motion kind of play.
It was a Darth Vader screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" kind of play.
It was a debacle wrapped in a clusterfuck stuffed in an epic fail gift box and delivered by train wreck mail to everyone in Bulls Country.
And it only took six seconds.
The Bulls did get one more shot. After yet another UConn punt, Julmiste went deep for Green on the first play of the next drive. But Green stopped running his route, and Tyvon Branch had an easy interception in the end zone. USF never saw the ball again, and they didn't win another game in the 2005 season. Instead of making their bowl debut in the BCS, they went to some bowl named after friggin' mufflers and got shut out.
After the game, the media asked Leavitt why he went for it on fourth and goal instead of taking the chip-shot field goal. He said he wanted two chances to win the game instead of one, figuring if they didn't score the first time, the Huskies would get stuffed again and have to punt, giving them another chance. Which is exactly what happened. Good decision, but bad execution.
Very bad execution.
When I started blogging about USF not long ago, I named my blog Voodoo Five. Ken had his own blog at the time - it was sadly wiped out by a server crash - and he hated the reference at first, but it grew on him. So when he pulled me in to help him with this blog, the name carried over here to SB Nation.
I didn't even have to explain to him why I named my blog Voodoo Five. He already knew.
To me, that one play represents the entire USF athletic program in a nutshell. There have been a lot of small victories, like winning at Auburn, or FSU, or Georgetown, and plenty of hope and anticipation along the way. But our teams have always been able to build up quickly and put themselves on the verge of doing something truly great. Whether it's finally returning to the NCAA Tournament (we haven't been since 1992 and have exactly zero Tournament wins to our name), or winning the Big East football title, or going to a Women's College World Series or a College Cup, we've been right on the precipice so many times over the last two decades. For one reason or another, some perfectly logical, others completely insane, it's never happened.
Most USF fans who watched that game can still tell you where they were when Voodoo 5 happened. I was in front of my computer in Texas, following along with a gamecast. (This was before the invention of ESPN360 made my life as a transplanted alum about 100 times easier.) Others were at home with family on Thanksgiving weekend, or in their own homes, or in a bar somewhere. For everyone, it was a stomach punch that we still haven't recovered from. We may carry on as if things are OK, but as soon as someone brings that play up, the bad memories pour back in.
Lately it seems like things may be turning around. Dominique Jones is single-handedly rescuing USF men's basketball. The women's basketball team won the WNIT last year with a string of unlikely road wins. Skip Holtz pulled a couple rabbits out of his hat on national signing day and as hard as it is to believe, he may end up being an upgrade as a football coach. Our baseball team is finally stocked with enough talent to get back to the NCAA tournament. The men's soccer team is consistently ranked. You could argue that there's never been this much excitement and optimism about USF athletics. If the good times are about to roll, I'll be the first one out there to welcome them. I hope that someday Voodoo 5 is just a blip on the radar that we can wince at and laugh about before we get back to admiring our trophies and banners.
But for now, it's a symbol. And it's lasted a lot longer than six seconds.