Auburn Stumbles Against South Florida, 26-23

AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM Gabe McKenzie makes a catch for Auburn's second touchdown.
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM
Gabe McKenzie makes a catch for Auburn's second touchdown.
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM

Sept. 9, 2007

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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- These South Florida upsets should no longer be a surprise.

Jessie Hester caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Matt Grothe to lift the Bulls to a 26-23 overtime win over No. 17 Auburn Saturday night and give USF a victory over a ranked team each of the last three seasons.

"I had to make a play," Hester said. "All day, all week, (the coaches) talked about making big plays. That's all they were talking about, man."

That big play helped South Florida (2-0) survive a game dominated by turnovers and missed kicks. However the win came didn't matter to the tiny contingent of Bulls fans celebrating in a corner of an otherwise quickly emptied stadium.

They should be getting used to this since their team had beaten highly ranked West Virginia and Louisville in the past two seasons.

The Bulls got their first victory over Southeastern Conference team and are now 6-0 in OT.

Auburn freshman Wes Byrum made a 39-yard field goal to start overtime and then Grothe took over. He ran three times, including a sneak on fourth-and-1. Then, on the next play he hit Hester behind the defense for the game-winner on a corner route that hadn't come open on several previous attempts.

"We were hoping for it all night long," Grothe said. "We tried to run that play all night. It was a (heck) of a call by coach and a big-time play."

The Tigers (2-0) committed five turnovers, but the Bulls couldn't turn any of them into points.

"We beat ourselves," said Cox, who was intercepted twice. "You can't win games like that. I apologize to our defense. When we weren't turning the ball over, we put together some good drives."

Grothe made sure the Bulls didn't have to put the game on struggling kicker Delbert Alvarado in overtime. He had missed four attempts in the second half.

Auburn gained only 2 yards on its overtime possession, with a run by Ben Tate and back-to-back incompletions by Brandon Cox. In the end, it was another stalled drive. Already playing without linebacker Tray Blackmon and safety Aairon Savage, Auburn also lost cornerback Jonathan Wilhite (hamstring) and linebacker Merrill Johnson (shoulder) during the game to injuries.

"We were so beat up we played our second-team linebackers and secondary in the second half," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "There are no excuses. Our defense fought hard. We can win the way we are playing defensively."

The teams had swapped late field goals to force the extra play.

Byrum kicked a 46-yarder with 2:54 left for a 20-17 lead after Cox completed 4-of-5 passes for 50 yards on the drive. But the Bulls quickly smothered the Tigers' excitement.

Jerome Murphy raced 59 yards down the left sideline on the kick return to Auburn's 32. The Bulls moved to Auburn's 2 on a run and two completions by Grothe, but had to settle for Alvarado's 19-yard field goal with 55 seconds left.

The Tigers let the clock run down after failing to move the ball on its next two plays.

Grothe completed 18-of-27 passes for 184 yards and also rushed for 31 yards and a touchdown.

Cox struggled badly most of the game, going 16-for-35 for 165 yards.

Both teams made plenty of mistakes to take the game to overtime.

Mike Jenkins picked off a pass by Cox and returned it to the Auburn 3 with 7:28 left to play after the Bulls tied the game on a 38-yard field goal by Alvarado.

But the Tigers pushed them back a yard on three plays and Alvarado missed a 21-yarder, his fourth miss of the second half -- including three potential game-tying kicks in the final 7 minutes of the third quarter.

Alvarado's first two attempts went wide left and his third was blocked by Sen'Derrick Marks.

"There's no question that's a big win for us," South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said. "There was so much adversity in the game. What I was most proud of was the way they kept battling and fighting."

The Bulls had stunned the Auburn fans by jumping ahead 14-3 on a 2-yard touchdown run by Mike Ford -- a former Alabama signee -- late in the first quarter."

Auburn redshirt freshman tailback Mario Fannin, who provided a spark early in his first career action on offense, fumbled on consecutive carries late inside Auburn's 25 to set up two of the attempts.