Bulls Off To Promising Start
TAMPA - Any concerns about how the University of South Florida would handle its first preseason ranking in school history disappeared in five minutes. That's about how long the No. 19 Bulls needed to establish their dominance against overmatched Tennessee Martin. USF scored early and often on its way to a 56-7 victory that included a school record 28-point first quarter. So, without further ado, start the hype for next week's UCF game. "Everybody's ready to go," USF senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said. "It'd be great to duplicate last year's 64-12 win. We basically dominated the whole game."Added junior defensive end George Selvie: "It's a big game, it's a rivalry game right there, baby. We know we have to go out there and get a win." In their season opener, the Bulls (1-0) did what nationally ranked teams - not named Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh - are supposed to against an inferior opponent: win and get the backups a lot of playing time. But even that wasn't enough for some. "We stalled a little bit in the second quarter, we should have stepped on their throats at that point," USF senior center Jake Griffin said. "We're never satisfied. "We're not happy, the first-team offense, we had to punt once." Oh, the humanity. Not even pregame showers could dampen the Bulls' night at Raymond James Stadium before an announced crowd of 48,058, the sixth-largest home crowd in program history and second-largest for a home opener. "We just haven't played real good football in past openers," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "We really weren't focused in the past. I'm sure Tennessee Martin will do good in their league, but that's not what we're going to be facing the rest of the year. "I'm proud of our players. They came out and did what they needed to do." Quarterback Matt Grothe (6-for-8, 96 yards, two TDs) only played one half and spent the second half on the sideline talking with former Bulls Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams. Wide receiver Jessie Hester Jr. had touchdown receptions of 18 and 22 yards. Senior Benjamin Williams had a game-high 70 yards rushing, including a nifty 45-yard run complete with a 360-degree spin move. The offense rolled up 520 yards, including 300 yards rushing. Senior Marcus Edwards racked up a school-record 124 yards on seven punt returns. "The blocking up front was great," Edwards said. "I had the easiest job. All I had to do was run." The defense also dominated. Technically, the Bulls pitched a shutout, as the Skyhawks' only touchdown came when Dontrell Miller returned a quarterback B.J. Daniels' fumble 64 yards for a touchdown. UT Martin (0-1) managed only 97 yards offense, and both times the Skyhawks took over in USF territory courtesy of turnovers, the defense didn't allow a first down. "I'll take that every day," USF defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. Daniels, USF's heralded true freshman, rebounded from his fumble to play a solid fourth quarter, completing all four passes for 86 yards. "I always dreamed of coming out of that tunnel," Daniels said. "I did OK. I know I've still got things to work on." In that final quarter, USF senior Cameron Perkins partially blocked a punt that junior Theo Wilson returned 67 yards for his first career TD with 11:39 remaining. Moise Plancher capped the rout with a 13-yard TD run, his second of the night, with 2:20 remaining. Afterward, Leavitt was pleased that several of his third- and fourth-team players saw significant action. But he was already looking to this week's visit to Orlando. "We understand Central Florida," Leavitt said. "We understand how good they are, the tall order to go into Bright House Stadium and compete with them. It will be a big challenge for us. We understand how good they are. That they are conference champions. That we have to play a great game to beat them." Let the UCF hype begin.
Reporter Brett McMurphy can be reached at (813) 259-7928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.