The nation took notice last season when South Florida went into Morgantown and defeated a ranked West Virginia team. On Friday night, the Bulls get the chance to repeat that performance on their own field when they take on the Big East rival Mountaineers in a nationally televised game.
South Florida held the Mountaineers’ potent offense to less than half its averages for rushing yards and points in a 24-19 win over then-No. 7 West Virginia on Nov. 25. That victory ended the Mountaineers’ eight-game home winning streak and is their only loss in Morgantown in nearly two years.
The Bulls (3-0) followed up that win with a 24-7 victory over East Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl, finishing 9-4 in their second season in the Big East after moving from Conference USA.
This season, South Florida opened with a win over Elon and then posted a 26-23 overtime victory at then-No. 17 Auburn on Sept. 8 before heading into its bye week. The voters rewarded the Bulls with their first-ever ranking at No. 23 on Sept. 16, and they moved up to 18th this week following a 37-10 win over North Carolina on Saturday.
Now, South Florida must host a fifth-ranked West Virginia team looking for revenge.
“We know we’re playing a great, great team coming in here. We’re excited about the challenge,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “We’re going to have to play awfully good football to have a chance.”
West Virginia (4-0) is also excited for Friday night’s matchup, the conference opener for both teams.
“I said, ‘You all know who is next.’ They blurted it out,” Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez said Saturday after his team defeated East Carolina 48-7. “People talk about revenge, but that’s not a great motivator. They are excited about trying to play better than we did against them last year.”
In the November loss to South Florida, West Virginia’s Steve Slaton - the nation’s No. 2 rusher at the time - had his streak of six straight 100-yard games snapped as he ran for just 43 yards. The Mountaineers didn’t score their first touchdown until midway through the third quarter and were limited to 132 yards rushing.
“We are focused right now. It’s business,” West Virginia wide receiver Dorrell Jalloh said Saturday. “We can’t fool around.”
The Mountaineers were all business against East Carolina. Pat White threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more, while Slaton rushed for 110 yards and a score to match a school record for career TDs with 42.
Rodriguez said it was the “best overall performance we’ve had in several years,” and said White, who went 18-of-20 for 181 yards and ran for 42 more in three quarters, was the difference.
“Pat was extraordinary,” Rodriguez said. “He was as sharp as you can be in all his decisions.”
South Florida was also led by its quarterback on Saturday. Matt Grothe led long touchdown drives on the Bulls’ first two possessions, and finished 17-of-30 for 230 yards and one touchdown.
“I didn’t think we’d come out and dominate the way we did,” Grothe said. “We still could have had even more points. It could have been, easily, 50-something to 10.”
Grothe completed 22 of 30 passes for 279 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in last year’s meeting, while White went 14-of-22 for 178 yards with two TDs and two picks.
West Virginia, though, has improved against the pass. The Mountaineers are allowing 186.3 passing yards per game after giving up 243.3 last season - 109th in the nation.
“We have to get pressure on (Grothe) but we also have to make sure he doesn’t get loose on us. We will have to be disciplined,” Rodriguez told West Virginia’s official Web site. “We can’t just sit back and let him pick us apart but when we pressure him we have to try to keep him in check because he is a dangerous runner.”
Grothe ran for 47 yards and a TD last season against the Mountaineers.
Since joining the Big East for the 2005 season, South Florida is 11-2 at home.
“It will be a great atmosphere,” Rodriguez said. “Our players like the night games and they like the national TV games and who wouldn’t? … When you are a road team going into that environment you’ve got to tune out everything except for the 11 guys on the field that you are competing against.”
West Virginia won 28-13 at South Florida on Dec. 3, 2005 behind a combined 263 rushing yards and four touchdowns from White and Slaton.