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USF football coach reflects on Jayhawks

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USF football coach reflects on Jayhawks

Jim Leavitt had no idea how far both teams would come when the Jayhawks and the Bulls met two years ago. They will play again this Friday.

By Taylor Bern (Contact)

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

On a windy September evening in 2006, Kansas squared off against South Florida in each team’s fourth game of the season. Few people in the press box, in the stands or on the field had any idea what kind of transformation was blossoming in Lawrence that night. In a highly competitive contest, the Jayhawks rallied with 10 points in the fourth quarter to edge the Bulls, 13-7.

It was Kansas’ third victory of the year and South Florida’s first loss.

“You don’t have any idea,†USF coach Jim Leavitt said. “You’re just sitting there trying to get a first down or stop somebody.â€

Since that game, each squad has reached unprecedented heights, notching a combined record of 34-13.

The tandem turnaround of a school with minimal football success and one that has only played since 1997 took the nation by storm. Less than two years later, Leavitt and coach Mark Mangino will battle again, only this time it’s a nationally televised contest between two top-25 teams.

Back then, this was a difficult future to predict for these two squads.

“We weren’t all that good when we played them that time, and they’ve certainly gotten awfully good,†Leavitt said. “It was a very close game. We had a shot there at the end.â€

Then-freshman quarterback Matt Grothe ran for a seven-yard touchdown in the third quarter to put USF up 7-0. The Jayhawks countered with 13 unanswered points, and Grothe tried to engineer a last-second touchdown drive.

Starting the drive with 1:06 left in the game, Grothe moved the ball to Kansas’ 27-yard line before safety Justin Thornton, then a freshman, intercepted his Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game.

Grothe has since become one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country; Thornton is a starting safety on a strong defensive unit.

Leavitt has kept an eye on the Jayhawks since their last meeting. He said it’s hard not to be impressed.

“They’re one of the top teams in the country, so it’s going to be a great challenge,†Leavitt said. “I’m not blowing smoke anywhere. Everybody knows what they do and they do it well.â€

Leavitt has a very capable quarterback running his offense, but he struggled to come up with enough ways to praise junior quarterback Todd Reesing.

“He’s a leader. He’s got a quick release, great feet. He knows the offense, delivers the ball, hits the open receiver,†Leavitt said. “I mean what doesn’t he do, honestly?â€

The Bulls’ rushing defense is ranked 18th in the country and has allowed only 67.5 yards per game. Kansas’ rushing offense has struggled in its first two games, but Leavitt said this isn’t a distinct advantage for his team.

“They can run and throw. It’s just because they haven’t chose to do much running,†he said. “They’re capable of doing both at a high level.â€

Leavitt’s defense boasts a pair of studs in junior defensive end George Selvie and senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie. However, Leavitt isn’t too sure what to expect from his inexperienced secondary.

“They’re OK,†he said. “We’ll find out a lot this Friday night.â€

The Bulls escaped last weekend with their perfect record intact. USF dispatched in-state rival Central Florida, 31-24, in overtime.

— Edited by Becka Cremer


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I was there and the play that really hurt was Grothe throwing into the end zone with about 10 seconds left and the ball slipping through (I think) Ean Randolph's hands at the goal line. Would have won the game.

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