The final chapter of the six-game series of USF vs. the Hurricanes is this Saturday with the 'Canes slowly returning to national prominence despite the NCAA still hanging over their head, and USF at the nadir of their 17 years of football existence. Let's look back.
October 1st, 2005: USF 7 - Miami 27
It didn't have to be this way.
Yes, Miami was the way better team that night on the field. They had more talent and were clearly the faster team to the ball all night long. Though Devin Hester didn't score, I just remember how he seemed to be moving in a different gear than every other player on the field. It was three touchdown runs from Tyrone Moss that salted the never-in-doubt victory away... but there was one point where the Bulls came oh-so-close.
Amarri Jackson the week before had one of the best individual offensive performances ever for a Bull in "The Amarri Jackson Game," a 45-14 thrasing of #8 Louisville in USF's first-ever Big East game. Amarri rushed the ball twice on reverses, and scored on both of them. Amarri caught the ball twice, and gained 75 yards. Amarri threw the ball once, and it went for an 11 yard touchdown to Derek Carter. He literally did it all, and it was magnificent to see. Plus destroying a Top 10 team at home in your first BCS conference game isn't a bad way to get fired up about the new era of USF Football.
On the first play from scrimmage against Miami, Pat Julmiste went play action by faking a handoff to Bulls workhorse Andre Hall. It worked perfectly as Jackson ended up wide open on a post route right down the center of the field. Julmiste was never the most accurate passer, but he hit Amarri perfectly in stride right in the center of the Orange Bowl where he could have run to Hialeah without anyone stopping him. But Amarri dropped what was a certain touchdown, and the air came out of the Bulls immediately.
Miami still wins this game most likely as Julmiste was only 8-25 for 42 yards that night, and Courtney Denson replaced him late in the game. The Bulls rushed the ball 40 times for only 105 yards as a team, and the 'Canes were just far athletically superior at this point. But making this play certainly makes it more interesting.
That night I was chaperoning a group of USF's Student Bulls Club members on a bus to the game, and had to walk them through the barrio as our bus couldn't get back to the OB after the game. I thought I was going to be responsible for the death of a USF student. Also their student fans started a "You Got F-ed Up!!" chant after one of our receivers got his clocked cleaned and the trainers were out checking on him. In sum not a fun evening for USF at all, and an indication of how far this team still had to go even after the big win the week before.
November 28th, 2009: Miami 31 - USF 10
USF got a win over an in-state ACC team earlier in the year with their win over FSU, but asking them to do the double was just too much. The Hurricanes were ranked 19th, and could really move the ball on the ground with 47 carries for 240 yards, including a 12 carries for 114 yards by Damien Berry. Sophomore QB Jacory Harris was just 11 of 21 for 161 yards, but showed his athleticism and didn't turn it over in a game that showed the promise he held.
USF just didn't have the horses to compete on with what was a very young team, as freshman BJ Daniels was just 6-16 for 77 yards with a TD and an INT. Mo Plancher carried most of the load for USF, but his 15 carries for 81 yards wasn't nearly enough to overcome what was a pretty large ability gap on the field. Mo Plancher had 15 carries for 81 yards that day, but USF only had 256 yards of offense and turned it over twice, which wasn't enough to overcome the eventual losers of the Champs Sports Bowl.
The upside of the game was the 66,469 in attendance, by far the largest crowd for either team at home that season showing there was an appetite for the game. There was lots of tailgating and trash talking in the parking lots, and fans were excited about starting what would be the first of five consecutive seasons of the teams facing each other. Though the teams weren't equal on the field, fans on both sides remembered that USF's best years didn't see the game played, so there was a sense that this could turn into a series worth watching sometime soon.
November 27th, 2010: USF 23, Miami 20 (OT)
At USF, it's the "Bobby Eveld off the bench!" game. At Miami, it's the "Got Randy Shannon Fired Hours Later" game. But it was about as interesting as two unranked teams can be in front of a sparse crowd in a stadium 45 minutes from campus can be. And let's stipulate that the official attendance of 41,148 makes the levels of lying that USF does about crowds look like fibbing about waistline as opposed to lying to a grand jury.
The first half was a rock fight of epic proportions, with both teams combining for 12 punts over the first 30 minutes. Miami finally strung a drive together, but on 3rd and goal Damian Berry was stripped by Mark Joyce and fumbled just shy of the goal line. The Bulls recovered in the end zone for a touchback, then somehow 12 plays later ended up 75 yards down field. A Maikon Bonani field goal at the gun gave USF a 3-0 lead at halftime, but an injury also forced BJ Daniels to the bench for the rest of the game.
Bobby Eveld replaced Daniels after halftime, and though the Bulls held the ball for over nine minutes of the third quarter, they also coughed up a promising drive early with a fumble by Plancher. Stephen Morris then gave it right back when he was picked off by Jacquian Williams and then tackled at the Miami 18 yard line. Demetrius Murray punched it in from eight yards out, and the boos from Miami could be heard back on campus as USF took a 10-0 lead.
Miami made their run after an exchange of drives when Lamar Miller's TD cut the lead to 10-7, then Storm Johnson opened the 4th quarter with a 71 yard TD run, and Matt Bosher tacked on a field goal to make it 17-10 'Canes. What followed seemed the unlikeliest drive in USF history:
Bobby Eveld had never seen significant game action before, and took the ball over at his 19 yard line with 4:54 to play. Eveld hit Joel Miller for 15 yards, then Dontavia Bogan for 27. After a couple misfires, Bogan caught a 3rd and 10 that saw him tackled at the Miami 1 yard line. It happened right in front of me, and I like every other USF fan couldn't believe what I just saw: A backup freshman quarterback on the road driving his team down for the tying score when all seemed just about lost. Eveld punched it in on a sneak, and a potential game winning Miami drive ended when Jacory Harris (who replaced Morris) was picked off by Jacquian Williams for his second INT of the day.
In overtime, the Bulls perfect record in extra football extended to 9-0 when after a beautiful defensive series that forced a three-and-out by Miami, Murray gashed Miami for 15 yards on first down. Eveld hit Miller with a pass like he was his old coach, and was downed at the 1 yard line. Murray then punched it in for his second TD of the day and set off a big celebration in the USF section.
I can still see Skip Holtz waving to the crowd as the Bulls came off the field. I can still hear the Miami fans telling me back at our postgame tailgate "Thanks! You just got us Shannon fired for sure!" It was a great celebration, and showed the promise of USF Football was still on track to being fulfilled.
Looking back on this game is almost painful for USF fans in another way: Bobby Eveld looked like a promising young passer. Skip Holtz lead his team to a come from behind win on the road. The Bulls even took the momentum and played what might have been their best game of the Holtz New Era to a big win over Clemson in Meineke Car Care Bowl a month later.
How'd that all work out? We'll get to Part II tomorrow.