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Yes, You Saw It Right, But Don't Be So Shocked

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Published: Sep 9, 2007

AUBURN, Ala. – We're back upstairs now, back from the South Florida locker room. We've got a little time now to absorb what we just saw in USF's draining, exhilarating, statement-making 26-23 overtime victory over Auburn.

The locker room was about what you'd expect – the players were floating off the adrenaline gained by coming to one of the storied college football venues in the land and winning despite making enough mistakes to lose three games. The Bulls overcame four missed field goals and the fact that they got no points from five – FIVE! – Auburn turnovers.

Quarterback Matt Grothe was celebrating his 21st birthday as befitting someone who had thrown a 14-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jessie Hester for the winning points in overtime.

"It was just so emotional when he caught it," Grothe said. "It took a couple of seconds to sink in. Wow, we won! And all you could hear was the back left corner [of the stadium] chanting U-S-F, U-S-F."

Like I said in the print column in today's Tribune, there will be many who'll call this an upset. You can make that argument, certainly. This was the place where the Florida Gators lost for the only time last season en route to a national championship. But it sure didn't seem like an upset if you were here.

"They didn't let [adversity] get them down," defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. "Their attitude was definitely positive, that they expected to win. My hat is off to these kids.

"I didn't think [it was an upset]. To me, it's just like West Virginia was last year. How many of these things do we have to win?"

This one ought to do.

Quieted The Crowd

This one should get USF ranked in the Top 25 for the first time. And how fitting was the anniversary – six years to the day that the Bulls first served national notice by winning at Pittsburgh. There have been other fine wins since then – West Virginia, a couple over Louisville, but this one is about as good as they come.

For someone in the South, winning at Auburn is special.

People know West Virginia and Louisville are good, and those are Big East Conference games. But people grew up knowing all about Auburn. This place IS college football. Jordan-Hare Stadium is one of the cathedrals. You win here and it lasts forever.

"I think [the atmosphere] was actually a little tougher than I thought it would be," Grothe said. "I went for warmups and it's like, ‘This isn't so bad.' But then the place filled up and I don't know how anybody heard me."

It still comes down to players, though, and USF had better ones on this night.

The Bulls had more speed. They had more playmakers. They definitely had a better quarterback. And the way they kept coming back and kept coming back when things seemed to avalanche against them to a maturing team that should have just entered the national consciousness.

"It's just love, all love," freshman running back Mike Ford said.

How many times do you win in a place like this when your kicker misses on four-of-six field goals? How many times can you give Auburn a 3-point lead at home with less than three minutes to play, yet survive?

Stuff like that is supposed to get you beat, especially in a place like this.

"All week long the coaches had been telling us to finish and play four quarters," Grothe said. "It was frustrating to get the turnovers late in the game and not be able to score from inside the 20, but sometimes those things happen. It was like we talked about at halftime and all week – play four quarters, play four quarters, play four quarters."

Actually, they needed more than that.

But you've never heard more than 82,000 people go stone silent like you did when Grothe hit Hester with the winner.

"It sounded like they cut the radio off," Burnham said.

Set Up Nicely

They get a week off now – they need it – before North Carolina comes to Tampa. Win that, and they'll be 3-0 for a high stakes showdown against West Virginia in the Big East opener. A national TV audience will have the chance to see what suddenly is a huge game with post-season implications.

"Coach [Jim] Leavitt always tells us that it doesn't matter who we play – that teams have to play South Florida," receiver Amarri Jackson said.

Maybe that's the real lesson of this night.

Leavitt bristled slightly when I asked him afterward about how'd he'd answer those who consider this game an upset.

"If you want to call it an upset, go ahead," he shrugged.

Actually, I don't.

I call it a great win and one for the ages.

I say it's one they'll be talking about on Fowler Avenue for a long time.

This place is special.

But this USF team is special too.

If people didn't know that before, they know it now.

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