After their win over West Virginia, things started to get serious for USF. They shot all the way up to #6 in the AP poll, and #9 in the coaches’ poll. Those were some nice rankings, but they also started piling on the pressure. Suddenly this USF football program, which turned 10 years and one month old on the day of the Florida Atlantic game, was entering the national title conversation. That was amazing and exciting and hard to wrap your head around. At the same time, you knew a complete upstart like USF had absolutely no leeway. If they lost one game, no matter who the opponent or what the circumstances, the party was gonna be over.
It was for this reason I began dreading USF football games in 2007. I think the stakes got too real for me. Also, I had been waiting to start a new job since before the season began, and I was getting really punchy sitting at home every day and not getting paid. So I was not in the best frame of mind for a game like this one.
It was the biggest trap game in USF history, and I’m not sure if another game even comes close. It was the week after a monumental win against West Virginia, and the week before a game against C. where you knew they would be revved up to try and humiliate them. The Bulls had to travel to Fort Lauderdale, for a game they would not be up for at all, against a team that would be extremely up to play them, with a very smart coach. It had trouble written all over it. The next year USF had a similar experience at FIU. Perhaps having learned their lesson, they have not visited either school since.
Let’s get to the highlights:
USF’s home invasion
The band and dance team and cheerleaders all went over to Fort Lauderdale, and there were A LOT of USF fans at this game. We’re talking thousands here. They might have even outnumbered the FAU fans in Lockhart Stadium, where the Owls played before they built their own stadium in Boca Raton. I don’t know if Bulls fans bought all these tickets before the team shot up the rankings, but there are a lot of USF students and alums from the Gold Coast and this turnout proved it.
This is the kind of fan support USF used to have. It’s happened before, and I’d like to think it can happen again.
Rusty Smith, human JUGS gun
I think I first used that phrase to describe Philip Walker on a podcast. The former Temple QB threw every pass with the velocity of a baseball closer, whether he needed to or not. FAU quarterback Rusty Smith was the same way. It didn’t matter if the receiver was standing 5 yards away or 50. It didn’t matter if he throwing a quick screen or a deep out. It didn’t matter if he was rolling out, or stepping into the throw, or throwing the ball flat-footed, or even winging it sidearm. Almost every single ball was a heater.
To prove my point, I made a supercut of every pass Smith threw against USF, all 47 of them. This took forever to make, but it’s important.
You’ll also notice that FAU used every rollout, sprintout, waggle, and bootleg they had in their playbook to make sure George Selvie and the rest of the defensive line didn’t eat Smith’s lunch. It was very good game planning. Add in about four ridiculous catches that Smith’s receivers made and it was absolutely infuriating to watch.
Smith ended up being the 2007 Sun Belt Player of the Year. In 2010 he got drafted by the Tennessee Titans, which was also annoying. Check out some of his sloppy footwork and the terrible throws into coverage in that video. Basically all he had was height (6’5”) and a rocket arm, yet Jeff Fisher drafted him anyway. He started one game and threw three interceptions as the Titans got shut out. Pro football is stupid.
The ballad of Ben and Shauna
Man, I really don’t want to talk about this, but the whole Ben and Shauna Moffitt story became a huge thing during the 2007 season. The marriage and the kids and the commuting from Bushnell and the Sumter County Appraisal Office and all of that. It seemed like every week there was something new being added. During this game, ESPNU’s Melissa Knowles interviewed Shauna on the sidelines.
It was a feel-good story that media outlets ate up and USF was happy to help promote. Then after the season, things went sideways. Like, really sideways. I don’t know if we ever found out what happened with them after that. I’m sure we don’t need to know, and even if we did I don’t think I would want to know.
Benjamin Williams saves the day, the season, and the program(?)
We’ve written about Benjamin Williams’ performance in this game before. Mike Ford was suspended, Jamar Taylor left in the second quarter with an injury, and Aston Samuels wasn’t ready for regular carries yet (we’ll talk about him eventually). So all USF had at running back was Williams. He answered the bell big time. Here’s part of what we wrote way back in 2010:
You don't really understand how important Williams was against the Owls until you think about what losing that game would have meant. Losing to a Sun Belt team? That would have been devastating. All the momentum from beating Auburn and West Virginia earlier that season would have been gone, and then some. Sure, FAU won the Sun Belt that year and then won a bowl game (which gave us this phenomenal picture). But if you're a top-10 team like the Bulls were at that point, you can't lose to anyone in the Sun Belt.
At halftime, with the score tied at 7, the Bulls decided to run the ball down FAU’s throat. Williams capped off the opening drive of the second half with his second touchdown. The teams then traded scores — Matt Grothe with a sensational TD run on fourth down, and Smith throwing a rocket ball to Jason Harmon, who made a great catch in the end zone.
Then there was this touchdown run in the fourth quarter. I mean, LOOK AT THIS $#@&ING RUN FAM.
Reversing field, making a killer spin move, breaking tackles, following Amarri Jackson’s excellent downfield blocking perfectly... it was beautiful. BBQ’s run is somewhere on the list of the greatest runs in USF history. I’m not sure what order they go in, but this run is in the pantheon along with:
- Andre Hall vs. UAB, 2004
- Victor Marc vs. UTEP, 2011
- Quinton Flowers vs. UConn, 2016
- Marlon Mack vs. C., 2016
Williams ran for 186 yards and tacked on a late score to become the first USF player to rush for four touchdowns in a game. Only Mack has done it since.
How close did USF come to losing this game, really?
Depends on how you want to interpret the evidence. The Bulls had four turnovers, all of which were brutal. They had a series of injuries and some bad fumble luck, losing all three of theirs while FAU recovered their only fumble. They manhandled FAU’s front seven for long stretches. And for all the hanging around the Owls did in this game, USF never trailed.
On the flip side... FAU kicker Warley Leroy (great name) missed three field goals in the swirling ocean breeze. Smith had a half-dozen passes careen off his receivers’ hands because he threw the ball so hard. The Bulls didn’t tackle very well. FAU had a really good offensive game plan and didn’t need short fields to score points. When the Owls got the ball back with three minutes left on their own 20, only trailing 28-23, it was really scary. Fortunately the Bulls forced a four and out to finally end the threat.
I’d say USF came closer to losing this game than they did to losing to Stony Brook a few weeks ago. I can only imagine how much everyone on social media would have freaked the hell out if this game happened this season. There would have been some really ugly scenes in comment sections. Let’s hope we don’t find out just how ugly later on.
Coming up next time: Matt Grothe owns C.’s soul again. Get ready because I might write 10,000 words on this game.