Friday, December 3, 2010

Worth The Drive

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

There would be very few games which would cause me to cut short a Thanksgiving Weekend in Detroit with My Aunt Tina Caplan.

But the one which did was on Saturday November 27, when the Miami Hurricanes hosted My Alma-mater the University of South Florida Bulls scheduled at noon at Joe Robbie Stadium.

I drove directly for 28 hours including the normal gas, food, cat nap and regular rest area stops to see a team I used to cover in Miami during the Howard Schnellenberger era in 1982-83, facing a university that never had football in the 1980's.

Football for USF was a mere pipe dream and homecoming would occur at the Sun Dome during college basketball season. Back then, USF was a member of the Sun Belt Conference. Miami was a National Independent. Today, USF plays in the Hurricanes former conference the Big East as Miami moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

On this Saturday afternoon, USF trailed the series 2-0, losing to Miami in 2005 at the Orange Bowl 27-7. In 2009, the Hurricanes stormed past the Bulls 31-10 at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium.

The first half of Saturday's contest set football back to the Stone Ages as USF led 3-0 at halftime.

I substituted Diet Pepsi and loaded up big time on Mountain Dew to stay awake. I wish Joe Robbie Stadium had Vault or Sun Drop. In the Carolina's, where Sun Drop is made, this drink is so potent it would give Jolt or Red Bull a run for its money. Vault and Sun Drop would give a person a blood pressure reading off the charts.

In the second half, the 26,369 fans saw a football game.

Both teams switched quarterbacks as walk on freshman Bobby Eveld took over for injured B.J. Daniels. He sparked the Bulls by rushing for a touchdown and completing 8-15 for 120 yards and zero interceptions. Despite not throwing for any touchdowns, Eveld made clutch completions when he had to.

USF running back Moise Plancher had 24 carries for 103 yards while Demetris Murray had 13 rushes for 42 yards and two touchdowns.

Wide receiver Joel Miller, who is known as the player former USF Coach Jim Leavitt made physical contact with that led to the coaches firing, made a nice contribution with four receptions for 60 yards. Dotavia Bogan added three catches for 56 yards.

Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris entered the game in the third quarter by going 12-18-110 yards and one interception along with getting sacked once.

Leonard Hankerson had nine receptions for 127 yards.

The big story in this contest for Miami came by true freshman running back Storm Johnson, whose third carry of the season resulted in an impressive 71-yard touchdown run. Johnson would have five carries this afternoon for 75-yards and Hurricanes fans are going to love this kid!

Miami would take a 17-10 lead until USF discovered its vertical passing game led by Eveld, who would tie the game 17-17 with a nine play, 81-yard drive that took 2:54 capped by a one-yard run by Eveld with two minutes left in the fourth quarter.

This sent the game into overtime where Miami would kick a 38-yard field goal, but Murray scored the decisive touchdown earning USF a huge monumental in state victory.

Little would anyone know what transpired a couple hours later.

The Hurricanes fired Coach Randy Shannon after he compiled a 28-22 record in four seasons. He was 0-2 in bowl games and 16-16 in ACC Conference Contests, with zero conference titles. Since the start of the 2007 season, 47 teams have more wins than Miami including four from the State of Florida.

Miami's largest winning streak under Shannon was five games during 2008. Three of those wins occurred against teams that finished with losing records. The Hurricanes went 1-7 away from home against ranked teams since the start of 2007.

The only win over a Top-10 team was last season when Miami defeated Oklahoma 21-20 at Joe Robbie Stadium, a game where the Sooners played without their Heisman Trophy Quarterback Sam Bradford, who sat out with a shoulder injury. Bradford was selected as the top pick of the 2010 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams.

Meanwhile, USF has had to overcome a coaching change of its own by terminating the fiery Leavitt and replacing him with the mild-mannered, upbeat Skip Holtz. This move has paid dividends for USF as Holtz has made the Bulls bowl eligible in his first year and the program is headed in the right direction with a 7-4 mark.

The Hurricanes are awaiting their bowl invitation but currently own a 7-5 record. But I do have a feeling that Miami's next hire could give the team a jolt especially if the Hurricanes regain their tenacious air attack that led them to five national championships beginning with Schnellenberger's run.

As I write this story, I just wonder why Bobby Eveld (6-5, 200) wasn't recruited by anyone and made the Bulls roster as a "Preferred Walk On."

Even Schnellenberger and his FAU Owls, which do a good job recruiting in Tampa, missed out on this kid. I know FAU does have other quarterbacks that will compete for the job in the next couple years, but this is one position where its good to have an abundance of depth.

After seeing Eveld, he reminds me of Schnellenberger's former Owls Quarterback Rusty Smith, now with the Tennessee Titans. Eveld is smart, is a book rat and studies hard. He seems committed to becoming the cornerstone of USF's future success. He couldn't have started off in a better manner than beating the highly touted Hurricanes.

I drove 28 hours to see:

1) A future Star QB Is Born.

2) A coach got his $1.5 Million Buyout Pink Slip.

While the 26,369 fans drove fewer than 28 hours to see a Thanksgiving Weekend Match up with two programs heading in different directions, it was interesting to see how many USF followers live in the South Florida area while others took the trek down I-75 South to see historical events for each university.

I certainly enjoyed taking the drive down I-75 several hours to see a game that ultimately turned out to be a classic.

It will be interesting to see how this new rivalry develops with Holtz and the next Miami Hurricanes coach.

The only real similarities between these schools now is they play their home games in NFL Stadiums.

For Miami, Saturday's game was the smallest home crowd since Larry Coker's last home game in 2006. Joe Robbie Stadium holds 76,000 and on this day, there was no shortage of good seats. For Shannon, with banners flying over the stadium calling for his termination, the lackluster attendance certainly attributed to the end of his first head coaching position.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

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