|West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen watches a replay against South Florida during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)|
South Florida loses late, again, 30-27 to WVU
TAMPA, Fla.—Another game-ending field goal kept South Florida from becoming bowl eligible.
Tavon Austin returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, Pat Miller scored on a 52-yard interception return and Tyler Bitancurt kicked a 28-yard field goal as time expired, helping No. 22 West Virginia clinch a share of the Big East championship with a 30-27 victory over the Bulls on Thursday night.
USF (5-7, 1-6) finished its season on a three-game losing streak and failed to qualify for a bowl bid for the first time in seven years.
"It's really hard right now," coach Skip Holtz said. "The football team, literally, has lost four games now on the last play of the game.
"I've had teams in my past with better records. ... I don't know that I've had a team that has probably taught me more through handling adversity and having a positive attitude."
The Bulls were beaten 6-3 on Nov. 19 when Miami's Jake Wieclaw made a 36-yard field goal on the last play of the game. Two weeks before that, South Florida lost in overtime, 20-17 at Rutgers.
The Mountaineers (9-3, 5-2) pulled even with Louisville atop the conference standings and likely will receive the league's automatic berth in the Bowl Championship Series if Cincinnati beats Connecticut on Saturday to create a three-way tie for the title.
"West Virginia made good plays when they needed to," South Florida wide receiver Sterling Griffin said.
Geno Smith set up Bitancurt's third field goal of the night with a 26-yard completion to Stedman Bailey on fourth-and-10 from the USF 42. The West Virginia quarterback also led an 11-play, 78-yard drive that Dustin Garrison finished with a 5-yard TD run to make it 20-all with just more than 5 minutes to go.
The Mountaineers, who fell behind 27-20 when JaQuez Jenkins returned an interception 24 yards for USF's last touchdown, began the winning drive from their own 26 after Najee Goode forced a fumble by Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels.
"It weighs a lot (on my mind)," Daniels said. "We were in position to win."
Daniels returned from a shoulder injury to throw for one touchdown and run for another. Jenkins gave the Bulls their only lead of the game.
"I felt all right," Daniels said. "Not 100 percent. But I tried to do what I could."
Louisville earned its share of the league title by beating USF last week. The Cardinals hold the tiebreaker over West Virginia if the race ends in a two-way tie, but the Mountaineers likely will receive the coveted BCS berth if Cincinnati beats UConn at home to force a three-way deadlock.
Under that scenario, the league's BCS spot goes to the team that's ranked highest in the final BCS rankings. That should work out for West Virginia, the only one of those teams that was ranked this week.
South Florida, wrapping up its second season under Holtz, lost seven of eight following a 4-0 start that included a win at Notre Dame. That victory lifted the Bulls into the Top 25 for a four-week stay that ended when the Bulls dropped their Big East opener. The third losing season in the school's relatively brief football history ended a streak of six consecutive bowl appearances.
"From this type of season, we learned the little things really come into play," South Florida wide receiver Evan Landi said. "We just haven't been able to finish. Our record doesn't reflect how hard we work on the field. The only thing you can do is learn from it."
USF went 5-6 in 1997 -- the year former coach Jim Leavitt began the program from scratch -- and again in 2003, the Bulls' first season in Conference USA.
"In the end, mistakes cost us," offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said.
Daniels started for USF after injuring his throwing shoulder against Miami and sitting out last week's 34-24 loss to Louisville. West Virginia had 10 sacks -- four by tackle Julian Miller -- during its win over Pitt, but the Mountaineers were not nearly as effective rushing the passer Thursday night.
Normally a threat to run as well as throw, Daniels only scrambled by necessity. His 20-yard TD pass to Griffin trimmed a 10-0 deficit to three points in the second quarter, although it took instant replay to get the points on the scoreboard. Griffin initially was ruled out of bounds, but a replay showed the receiver got one foot down in the end zone as he was gaining possession.
The Mountaineers made a number of mistakes that helped the Bulls stay close early.
In addition to settling for a 23-yard field goal after a false start penalty on fourth-and-goal from the USF 1, linebacker Jared Barber dropped a possible interception during the drive that produced USF's first touchdown. Bitancurt missed a first-quarter field goal try that followed a short punt.
Devon Brown fumbled at the end of a 21-yard catch and run early in the third quarter, with USF recovering at its 2-yard line to deny the Mountaineers another scoring opportunity. Smith's only interception, some poor tackling and a pass interference penalty in the end zone led to Maikon Bonani's 20-yard field goal that trimmed USF's deficit to 20-13 late in the third.