Bowling Green quarterback Josh Harris eludes South Florida's J.R. Reed on his way to the Falcons' only touchdown.
TAMPA - Playing on a major stage, in front of the very people it most wanted to impress, Bowling Green State University stalled and came up empty on its trip to the Sunshine State.
The Falcons faced South Florida last night in Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with scouts from the Motor City and GMAC bowls on hand to review their performance. The Bulls frustrated and stymied Bowling Green's offense, which had produced 50 points per game and led the nation for a good part of the season, and rolled to a 29-7 win in front of 28,098.
It was a very costly Saturday for the Falcons, who earlier in the day saw any hopes they had of possibly making an appearance in the Mid-American Conference Championship game evaporate when Northern Illinois beat Eastern Michigan. Bowling Green then made a disappointing showing in front of the bowl folks.
The Falcons had just 90 yards of offense in the first half, and one touchdown on an 18-yard drive. BG struggled all night trying to move the ball, and had a lot of difficulty stopping the Bulls. Bowling Green dropped to 8-2 with the loss, while South Florida matched that mark while winning its 19th straight home game.
The Bowling Green special teams set up the game's first touchdown after the Falcons held the Bulls on the game's opening series. As USF attempted to punt from its own 27, Cornelius McGrady blew up the middle and smothered the kick just as Devin Sanderson attempted it. Mike Crumpler recovered at the South Florida 18.
A penalty moved BG back to the 23, but quarterback Josh Harris rushed for 11, Joe Alls pushed for four and a first down at the 8, and Harris went in standing up from there. Shaun Suisham's kick gave BG a 7-0 lead just three minutes into the game.
The Bulls answered quickly with an 86-yard drive to tie the game. After picking at the BG secondary for short gains, USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell hit Chris Iskra behind the Falcons for a 42-yard touchdown.
Bowling Green came back and drove from its 16 into South Florida territory behind the running of Alls and Harris and short passes to Robert Redd and Charles Sharon. When Harris attempted to go deep to Redd over the middle, South Florida safety J.R. Reed intercepted.
South Florida pinned Bowling Green inside its 10 with a punt with two minutes left in the opening quarter, and on second down the snap sailed over the head of Harris in the shotgun and rolled out the back of the end zone for a safety and a 9-7 South Florida lead.
Bowling Green punter Pat Fleming's free kick was returned to the USF 43 and after an exchange of punts, South Florida was in great field position at the BG 38. Five plays later DeJuan Green scooted in from nine yards to give South Florida a 16-7 advantage with just about 11 minutes left in the first half.
While the Falcons continued to struggle offensively, USF's Blackwell kept taking off out of the pocket for big yardage. He moved the Bulls inside the BG 20 late in the second quarter, and aided by a pass interference call on a critical third down play from the 15, helped South Florida open a 23-7 lead at the half. Clenton Crossley got the score on a three-yard run.
Bowling Green's best opportunity of the second half came midway through the third quarter when the snap to punter Sanderson sailed over his head and Crumpler tackled him as he tracked it down at the USF 27. The Bulls lost 29 yards on the play.
Harris did most of the work moving it to the 9, but he was hit and fumbled at the 4, and South Florida recovered. The Bulls marched to the Falcons' 21 where Santiago Gramatica kicked the first of his two second-half field goals to give USF a 26-7 advantage. The younger brother of NFL kicker Martin Gramatica hit from 38 and 31 yards, the latter giving South Florida a 29-7 lead with about 11 minutes left in the game.