Ten years ago, USF football exploded onto the national scene in a way that very few programs ever have. It was a wild season, and at the time it seemed like something new and interesting happened in every game they played.
Are our memories as reliable as we think they are? Are there even more hidden gems waiting to be discovered? That’s why I decided to go back and watch all 13 games from the 2007 season again, from start to finish. The good games, the great games, the blah games, and even the terrible games. We found almost every game on YouTube, and the only one we were missing, we managed to track down a copy.
I haven’t watched most of these games since they happened. A few of these games, I’ve never watched at all. Live streaming video was barely a thing in 2007, and ESPN’s new ESPN360 service didn’t work very well yet. I never could watch the Elon and Cincinnati games, and I only saw half the UConn game (for a completely different reason).
So let’s right that first wrong — it’s USF vs. Elon from September 1, 2007.
And right off the bat… it’s Al Keck! The longtime Tampa sports anchor did the play-by-play of dozens of USF football games on TV in the early years, but I don’t think he’s called once since then. The end of an era.
From time to time I’ve used the phrase “THESOUTHFLORIDABULLS” on this blog. That’s a reference to Keck. The school hadn’t decided they were OK with people calling them USF yet, so he had to say “the South Florida Bulls” over and over again in his crisp, distinct voice. (He also did a lot of USF basketball games back then.) After awhile you couldn’t unhear it. When Collin started asking for sound clips so he could build a drop board for our podcasts, Al Keck saying “THESOUTHFLORIDABULLS” was the first one I asked for.
On to the game. There are three things people really seem to remember from this game. Let’s see if they hold up:
Did USF really run the most vanilla offense ever?
Legend has it the Bulls only ran something like six or eight plays the entire game. Auburn was up next, and maybe they figured they could get past Elon without revealing very much of Greg Gregory’s new playbook. But that’s not really true. I started making a list of every play USF ran throughout the game. I expected I wouldn’t get more than a dozen or so. After one quarter I already had 17:
- Quick hitter to WR (plays 1, 5)
- Square in to WR from shotgun, 2 RB (play 2)
- Slant to WR from ace formation (play 3)
- RB off tackle from shotgun (plays 4, 7, 12)
- RB off guard, 3 WR/1RB formation (plays 6, 10, 14)
- Quick out to WR, 3WR/1RB shotgun (play 8)
- Swing pass to RB, 4WR/1RB shotgun (play 9)
- Hitch to WR, 5 WR (plays 11, 17)
- Unknown, Grothe scramble, 5 WR (play 13)
- Seam route to WR, 4 WR shotgun (play 15)
- Something downfield, Grothe got sacked (play 16)
- Slant to WR, 5 WR (play 18)
- Fly pattern to WR, 4 WR/1TE (play 19)
- Jet sweep, 4 WR shotgun (play 20)
- Swing pass to WR lined up in backfield, 4 WR/1RB (play 21)
- Different swing pass to WR lined up in backfield, 4WR/1RB (play 22)
- Zone read, 4 WR/1RB (play 23)
Maybe the plays themselves weren’t really complicated, but this was hardly a base offense the Bulls were running. I think the real issues were that it was the first game and guys weren’t quite clicking yet. There were a number of dropped passes and missed assignments, the kind that tend to happen in the first game. A couple of offensive linemen shuttled in and out of the game with injuries, and there wasn’t much continuity up front. And Elon’s torturous offense kept the ball out of USF’s hands.
Pete Lembo’s letter to the Elon fans claiming they could have won that game
Watching a Pete Lembo team play football was EXCRUCIATING. He faced USF three times, including two games as Ball State coach in 2011 and 2012. All three times it was the same thing:
- Bleed the clock dry.
- Plow into the middle of the line for like 1 yard.
- One or three-step drops and a bunch of short passes and screens for like 4 yards.
- Face a million third downs and try to score on 20-play drives that take forever.
Look at the stats:
Elon ran 85 plays and only gained 259 yards. That’s barely three yards per play. They were 4 for 21 on third down. How is that even possible???
I can sum up the Pete Lembo philosophy in one play. It was the last play Elon ran that night, a 4th and 7. They threw a hitch pass short of the line to gain, then tried a ridiculous lateral drill that didn’t work. Like, would it have killed you to have your quarterback throw a pass beyond the first down marker? There’s a seven-letter word I want to use here to describe Lembo’s dinky offense (and you can spell it more than one way), but this is a family blog. Pete Lembo was the worst. The absolute worst.
Then a couple days after the game, he wrote a letter to Elon fans about how they could have won. Someone found it and posted it on a message board. I’ve excerpted it here:
We played with great effort but lost a winnable game versus the University of South Florida in front of a crowd of over 33,000 at Raymond James Stadium last night. Turnovers in the red zone, untimely penalties and some other first game miscues prevented us from building an early lead and inhibited a late comeback...
We competed well with a legitimate I-A program, but did not sustain the focus necessary to pull off the upset. Our players must learn how to win games like these - regardless of the opponent's hype and the hostile environment...
On offense, quarterback Scott Riddle was very poised and composed running our complicated offense for the first time. Despite the opponent and the environment, the true freshman was very comfortable on the field and when communicating with the coaching staff on the sideline...
Yes, Elon, with their wussy offense and low-FCS talent, playing an FBS opponent for the first time ever, apparently could have won the game. Um. No.
Mike Ford sort of goes off
Ford didn’t start his first college game. Ben Williams handled the first two drives, then gave way to Ford. Even though he scored three touchdowns, Ford only had six carries, and three of those were on one drive in the fourth quarter to ice the game.
I bet you don’t remember that Ford’s first touchdown was actually a pass reception. He only caught seven career passes, and this was his only receiving touchdown. (That’s Al Keck with the very fresh “Ford has a better idea”, a reference to a slogan celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.)
Ford’s second touchdown was actually pretty impressive. He bounced a run to the outside without a lot of blocking, broke a tackle at the 10, and kept his balance long enough to land the ball on the goal line.
Then he had another strong run for 48 yards in the fourth quarter. Ford cut back to a hole off right guard, ran through two guys trying to tackle him, then got unlucky to step out of bounds just before he threw another guy off him at the goal line.
And thus began a tedious three-year debate about whether or not Mike Ford should be getting 25 carries a game. (Doug Graber: in favor of it.)
- There’s no video footage, but when the Bulls were introduced before the game there was a fireworks accident. The team was supposed to run out on the field with flames and sparks shooting off around them, but instead some of them blew up in the operator’s face.
- Maybe this is how Elon ended up on the USF schedule again?
- The announced attendance was 33,639. At the time it was the 10th largest home crowd in school history. No one knew it then, but USF would exceed that number in 38 of their next 39 games. And just four weeks later, USF would draw a crowd more than twice that size.
- Grohawk status: Not a thing yet.
Next week: USF vs. Auburn, and the rocket ship clears the tower.