The Bulls' defense scored on a fumble return and held the nation's second-best rushing and scoring offense to less than half of its averages in a 24-19 win over the No. 7 Mountaineers on Saturday.
West Virginia history
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Matt Grothe ran for a touchdown and passed for another as South Florida (8-4, 4-3 Big East) handed West Virginia (9-2, 4-2) its first home loss in nine games -- a loss that could end the Mountaineers' chances for a Bowl Championship Series bid.
South Florida coach Jim Leavitt described it as a milestone in the school's 11-year football history, surpassing a win over Louisville last year.
"This probably was the biggest because we won here and it's so hard to win here," Leavitt said. "It's hard to beat these guys anywhere."
West Virginia fell into second place in the conference and its streak of three straight conference titles is in jeopardy. The Mountaineers are now relegated to the role of spoiler: They finish the regular season at home next week against Rutgers, which can clinch a BCS berth with a win.
For a team averaging 41 points and 330 rushing yards, West Virginia looked listless.
"That's the worst our offense has played all year. Some of our best runs today, we're losing yards," said West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez.
Slaton, the nation's No. 2 rusher, had his worst game as a starter. He saw his streak of six straight 100-yard games snapped, finishing with a season-low 43 yards, 115 below his average. The Mountaineers didn't score their first touchdown until midway through the third quarter and were limited to 132 yards rushing.
"They used speed to their advantage," Slaton said. "They really came to play today."
West Virginia was effective only through the air. White threw two touchdown passes to Brandon Myles but the Mountaineers squandered several other scoring chances. They had scored touchdowns on 77 percent of their drives inside the 20 entering the game, yet failed to reach the end zone four times from the red zone against South Florida, including their first three drives.
Slaton fumbled the ball away at the South Florida 1 on the first drive of the second half. West Virginia got the ball back at the South Florida 28 after a punt and White found a leaping Myles with a 15-yard TD pass in the left corner of the end zone. But White's conversion pass fell incomplete to make it 14-12.
Grothe, the redshirt freshman, finished 21-of-29 for 270 yards and helped keep the Mountaineers' offense off the field.
He took the Bulls 70 yards on the next series, finding Ean Randolph with a 21-yard TD pass late in the third. He later converted a pair of third-down passes to keep alive a 14-play drive that resulted in an 18-yard field goal by Delbert Alvarado midway through the fourth and a 24-12 lead.
"I was just thinking 'come on defense," Grothe said. "Their offense can score whenever they want to. The defense played well all game, and then they finished it."
White found Myles with a 44-yard scoring pass with 5:16 left to cut the deficit to 24-19.
South Florida failed to get a first down on its next drive and West Virginia got the ball back at its 15. But a pass went off Myles' hands and Trae Williams intercepted the tipped ball for South Florida with 1:54 left. White finished 14-of-22 for 178 yards and ran for just 17 yards on 15 carries.
West Virginia was held scoreless in the first quarter for just the second time all season.
South Florida's first four drives ended with two interceptions and two sacks but the Bulls got some defensive help to take the lead.
White was hit by Chris Robinson on a pass attempt and fumbled deep in West Virginia territory. South Florida's George Selvie scooped up the ball at the 9 and scored the Bulls' first defensive touchdown of the season for a 7-6 lead midway through the second quarter.
Grothe's 10-yard keeper for a touchdown just before halftime put the Bulls ahead 14-6. It marked the first time in 17 games that West Virginia was held without a first-half touchdown.
"I think that's the first blame, that the kids weren't focused," Rodriguez said. "They were here all week with no school. They were 15 minutes early for dinner. It was good all week. I felt good coming into the game.
"They're 18, 19, 20-year old kids. I'm not going to drop them into the grease because we didn't play well."