All three of USF’s regular-season losses in 2007 were brutal in their own way. I think this one was the most winnable of the three. It took an entire half of Rutgers hangover, a huge rainstorm, a rash of injuries, and abysmal goal-line execution for USF to lose 22-15 to UConn. The Bulls were probably a better team overall, but the Huskies made the plays they needed to make to win and USF didn’t.
It also turned out to be the most damaging loss at the end of the season. If the Bulls had won this game, and the other results stayed the same, then West Virginia’s tragic loss to Pitt would have left a three-way tie at the top of the Big East at 5-2 between the Mountaineers, Huskies, and Bulls. Having then beaten both West Virginia and UConn, USF would have won the conference and gone to the Fiesta Bowl.
There’s a lot to unpack from this game. Let’s get started.
I had a fall wedding and it saved me a lot of grief
My wife and I weren’t supposed to get married on October 27, 2007. We had booked the previous Saturday for our wedding, which was fine because USF was playing on Thursday night that week and it meant I wouldn’t miss anything. (By the way, the biggest college football fan at our wedding was me, so don’t @ me about how inconsiderate it was for us to have a fall wedding. We didn’t invite 500 people and we knew our guests well enough to know it wouldn’t be a problem.)
Early in the summer, the venue called up and said oops, we already booked someone for October 20, can you move back a week? There was a USF game that day, but it was fine. I mean, it wasn’t like USF and UConn were both going to be ranked or something. How important could that game be?
Before I started writing this post, I had never sat down and watched the second half. I saw the first half in a bar with a couple of friends who wanted to watch Florida-Georgia, which turned out to be absolutely hilarious. Then I left for the wedding venue to suit up and get everything ready.
Back then there was no streaming the game on a smartphone. There wasn’t enough bandwidth for that in 2007, and hardly any smartphones — the original iPhone was only a few months old. I went back into the manager’s office from time to time to check the score on her computer, in between setting up the DJ equipment and the table markers and the centerpieces. (This was a very DIY wedding.) I knew USF eventually lost, but I had no idea how brutal the game really was. I was blissfully unaware as we went ahead with the ceremony and reception, and I had a perfectly lovely evening. On the other hand, if I had watched this game live, and considering how nervy and high-strung I was that season, I might have committed a murder after it ended. I’d be rotting in prison right now instead of being happily married with a kid and celebrating our 10th anniversary today. So there you go. A fall wedding worked out great for me. YMMV.
USF’s emotional hangover?
We’ve never heard the whole story about what happened to the team after the Rutgers game. Were they emotionally wrecked? Jim Leavitt admitted to the ABC crew that his team had been on an emotional roller coaster. They got way up for Auburn, and had a week to reset so they could be focused for UNC. Then they got insanely fired up for West Virginia, followed by a huge letdown game at FAU. Then they got all the way up again to annihilate C. Then they had to go out on the road five days later and lost another highly emotional game at Rutgers. Maybe they just couldn’t bounce back that quickly. Maybe they were wearing down from all that frenzied action. Maybe injuries were catching up to them. Taurus Johnson didn’t play in this game, and other key players like Jake Griffin, Richard Clebert, and Carlton Williams were all sent to the sidelines against the Huskies.
Whatever the reason, USF looked extremely flat in the first half, especially on defense. The immortal Andre Dixon ran all over the Bulls for a career-high 167 yards, and no one laid a finger on quarterback Tyler Lorenzen. On offense, Matt Grothe was the only consistent player on the field, and he didn’t have many good options to throw to after Amarri Jackson got hurt and left the game. Eventually USF got rolling, but that 16-0 first half killed them.
IT’S TOO WET OUTSIDE
For such a huge game for the UConn program, there were an awful lot of empty seats at the Rent, weren’t there? This is from the middle of the second quarter, after the rain had subsided.
ABC telling everyone to ignore this game and go watch the Breeders Cup
This was the first year the Breeders Cup stretched over two days, and ESPN was airing it. Every 15 minutes they’d put a reminder on the screen and the announcers would make a big deal out of telling everyone when a new race was about to start, so you could TURN OFF THIS IMPORTANT FOOTBALL GAME BETWEEN TWO RANKED TEAMS AND WATCH A DAMN HORSE RACE. Come on, man.
Speaking of the announcers... this was the year that The Eagles, who were maybe 5% country, inexplicably performed at the CMA Awards. We have a ton of readers who were in college in 2007. Please comment below if you were listening to The Eagles as a student, as analyst David Norrie claims young people were doing in this clip. I’m guessing not.
Peak UConn Football
Peak UConn Football is a touchdown scored by a tight end wearing #90. Yep, that happened.
Nate certainly remembered him fondly in our Slack channel:
Dylan Douglas’s moment of almost glory
Down 16-0 in the third quarter, Jerome Murphy helped jump start the Bulls by blocking a Desi Cullen punt. With the grass on the field about as long as the rough at a U.S. Open, the ball didn’t roll very far in the end zone. Little-used defensive back Dylan Douglas moved in to recover the ball for a touchdown... until it took a bad hop and bounced away right as he started in to fall on it. One of the UConn upbacks ended up diving on the loose ball for a safety.
2007 was Douglas’s only season at USF. He appeared in every game on special teams, and made three tackles. This would have been his one and only big moment in a USF uniform, until fate took it away. In the end, though, the safety kind of worked out for the Bulls. After the two points and the free kick, Grothe sped USF down the field in just three plays for a touchdown to make the score 16-9.
USF’s many and varied goal line disasters
Unlike two years before, when the Bulls were done in by an insane play call on the goal line at UConn, this time it was their execution at the goal line (plus some bad luck and one baffling personnel decision) that killed them. The Bulls had FIVE drives with goal to go in this game and only scored 10 points. Let’s review.
First drive of the game: In an absolute monsoon, the Bulls reach the UConn 3-yard line, but Grothe gets tangled up with Jamar Taylor on third down and the ball pops out. Grothe recovers at the 8. Then Delbert Alvarado misses a 26-yard field goal from the right hashmark.
2nd drive, third quarter: USF drives down to the 3-yard line again. This time they go with an empty backfield on third and goal, and Marcus Edwards runs an out and up fade route towards the far pylon. But Grothe doesn’t get enough air under the ball and it’s intercepted by Robert McClain in the end zone.
3rd drive, third quarter: After the safety, Grothe leads the Bulls to a touchdown, gaining all 63 yards on the ground. First he runs for 53 yards, a school record for a quarterback at the time and the second-longest carry of Grothe’s USF career. (We’ll get to the longest one in a few weeks.) On the next play, he scores from 10 yards out.
1st drive, 4th quarter: Trailing 19-12, the Bulls roll down the field to the UConn 2. On first and goal, Mike Ford sweeps around right end for the tying touchdown. But it’s called back for a holding penalty on Cedric Hill. Two plays later, on 3rd and goal from the 10, Grothe lobs a pass for Hill in the end zone. He might have been a bit distracted by the defender, but the ball hits Cedric in the chest and falls incomplete.
We’re going to discuss another crucial dropped pass in the end zone when we write about the Cincinnati game next week, one that fans still remember to this day. Having seen them both, I think I can say Hill’s drop was worse.
Perhaps controversially, Leavitt settles for a field goal to make the score 19-15. The three points weren’t all that helpful, but with half a quarter to go and USF very likely to get the ball back, and also needing 10 yards to get in the end zone, it’s not a terrible decision.
FInal drive of the game: Down by 7, the Bulls again get into a goal to go situation. On first down, Grothe runs to the Huskies’ 1-yard line. USF gets their three-RB goal line set on the field, and on second down they hand off to... Mo Plancher???????
I don’t know if Ford got hurt, or there was some other reason he wasn’t in the game... but Plancher is, like your fifth-string running back, and he hasn’t even been on the field before this play. Why the hell is he getting the ball??? This will shock you, but Plancher is stuffed for no gain.
On third down UConn gets incredibly lucky as the Bulls try a bootleg from the same formation. Grothe rolls left, and somehow there are three Huskies waiting for him. Grothe gets dropped all the way back at the 12, and on fourth down no one’s open so he has to force a pass into triple coverage that falls incomplete. Game over. Guhhhhhhhh.
Next time: USF comes back home to face Cincinnati and plays the weirdest football game I think I’ve ever seen.