Bulls roll to easy 56-7 win in opener
TAMPA – It won’t always be this easy – it really can’t be, frankly -- but openers don’t come much more dominating than USF’s 56-7 drubbing of Division I-AA’s Tennessee-Martin on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.
"The thing I'm happiest about is that sometimes we've played a team like that and we haven't done what we were supposed to do," coach Jim Leavitt said.
The opening quarter went so near-perfectly for the Bulls, with four touchdowns in their first four possessions, that USF had quarterback Matt Grothe on the bench after just one quarter.
After an interception by backup Grant Gregory, Grothe was back, but it was little more than an encore, a chance for one more touchdown before calling it a night at halftime.
"It'd be nice if all of them would be like that," said Grothe, who finished 6-of-8 for 96 yards and two scores. "We came out and we executed. There was a lot of talk before the game about the last two years, so we wanted to come out and score some points."
USF had struggled in openers against I-AA teams the last two years, eking past Elon 28-13 last year and leading McNeese State 13-10 in the fourth quarter in 2006 before pulling away.
This time, there was no trouble, as a crowd of 48,058 looked on, the most for a USF opener since the program’s first game in 1997. The defense pitched a shutout, with the only points coming off a fumble return, and the Bulls held UTM to 97 total yards of offense, 23 off the school record set in that first-ever game against Kentucky Wesleyan.
"We wanted to set the tone early, especially on defense," said safety Carlton Williams, who had an interception on a deep pass. "Once you start, you don't want to let anybody get momentum. Our goal tonight was to keep going and keep going and don't let up."
The Bulls (1-0) scored four touchdowns on their first 18 plays, only going to third down once along the way. Grothe found receiver Jessie Hester for the first of two touchdowns, then sophomore Mike Ford had touchdown runs of 4 and 6 yards, with senior Ben Williams going 12 yards for the fourth score.
It was a record night for USF on punt returns, as senior Marcus Edwards set a school record with 124 yards on seven returns, all in the first half. Dunedin’s Theo Wilson added to that when he took a punt blocked by walk-on Cameron Perkins and returned it 67 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
UTM, which got $300,000 to come to Tampa for its first game against a major-conference opponent, only got on the scoreboard when USF brought freshman B.J. Daniels in for a dubious debut. Daniels fumbled on his third play, and UTM's D.J. Miller recovered the loose ball and returned it 72 yards for the touchdown. At that point, UTM’s offense had totaled 52 yards of offense the entire game.
Daniels recovered nicely, finding receiver Dontavia Bogan for passes of 36 and 20 yards on the next drive, which was spoiled when receiver Ed Alcin fumbled into the pylon for a touchback. Daniels finished 4-for-4 for 86 yards. USF was able to pile up 520 yards of offense despite substituting liberally, allowing several reserves and even walk-ons to make their college debuts.
After the sting of a 35-point loss to Oregon in the Sun Bowl had lingered for eight months, the Bulls now have confidence heading into next week’s game at Central Florida.
"I do recognize we've got different teams ahead," Leavitt said. "None of you have to share that with me. I recognize that, and I think our team does, too."