Saturday, September 26, 2009
Bulls show they belongs among state's powers Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- South Florida defensive coordinator Joe Tresey could point to schemes and personnel for his team's defensive domination of Florida State on Saturday. But he had a simpler explanation.
"Most of our kids weren't good enough to play for these guys," Tresey said. "They came into this game and they had a little chip on their shoulder. They didn't talk about it a lot. But just kind of deep down inside, they wanted to show up and show them they could play."
There's no doubt about that any more. South Florida's 17-7 win was no fluke. The Bulls didn't just benefit from Florida State mistakes or lucky bounces. They dictated the outcome with a faster, stronger, hungrier group of players.
AP Photo/Phil Coale
Jim Leavitt soaks in his team's win over Florida State Saturday.
We've seen them do this before. Two years ago, they won at Auburn and beat West Virginia to rise to No. 2 in the nation. Last year, they beat Kansas and made another brief top 10 appearance.
But this was the first time South Florida had ever taken down one of the Sunshine State's holy triumvirate of FSU, Miami and Florida. Now the 13-year-old program can say with a straight face that it deserves a membership in that exclusive club. After all, the Bulls just nailed the interview.
"It's only one game," head coach Jim Leavitt said. "We haven't done what those guys have done. They've won national championships.
"But now when people ask me should you be in the Big Four, I can say, well, at least we should be talked about once in a while."
Speaking of a big four, South Florida's defensive line was the most prestigious group on this field.
The Seminoles rushed for 313 yards last week in a 54-28 win at BYU. On Saturday, they managed just 19 rushing yards. The Bulls' defensive front manhandled the FSU offensive line the whole game, finishing with five sacks and nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage as a unit. Even those statistics don't tell the whole story of how one sided the matchup was.
Because South Florida got so much pressure with just its front four, the rest of the defense could drop into coverage or help out against the run. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder found success scrambling and throwing the first three games this season; on Saturday he mostly had to run for his life while a Bulls lineman chased him in the backfield.
"We know we're an athletic defensive line, and all we did was come out and be relentless," George Selvie said.
Even field-position disadvantages were turned into an advantage. The Seminoles had first-and-goal on the 3 early in the second quarter but got stuffed on three straight running plays. Selvie flashed his two-time All-American form, while junior college transfer Jason Pierre-Paul -- who just joined the program late in training camp -- provided a menacing bookend, often meeting Selvie at the intersection of Ponder and pounding.
"I've only been here a couple of weeks, and I'm still learning the system," said Pierre-Paul, in what must prompt frightening thoughts for Big East quarterbacks.
Defensive tackles Craig Marshall and Aaron Harris combined for three sacks, too. Safety Nate Allen played like the potential pro he's always been, while freshman Jon Lejiste helped set a tone early with a cannonball hit on Tavares Pressley to cause a fumble. South Florida held the line despite losing starting linebackers Kion Wilson and Chris Robinson to injury and being forced to turn to two true freshmen at that spot.
"The courage was unbelievable," Leavitt said.
After his players had finished celebrating on the field and headed back up the tunnel, Leavitt took a moment to soak everything in. He looked up at his jubilant fans, made a Bulls sign with each hand and leaned his head back, not minding the light rain that was dripping on his face.
He stood there like that for a couple of minutes. Later, he said he nearly broke down and cried then, thinking about this seminal victory over the Seminoles.