'Cuse me: Bulls shovel way to 41-10 win
Hundreds of thousands of people pay for the right to read the Times on Sunday mornings. You guys get it the same story for free, and on Saturday night. What a country! Here's a link to my notebook and a sidebar on Aston Samuels as well.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Needing to motivate his team and snap a three-game losing streak, USF coach Jim Leavitt showed up for a team meeting Friday night with a shovel in his hand.
His players took the symbolism to heart, and then hit Syracuse over the head with it Saturday, cruising to a dominating 41-10 victory in the Carrier Dome.
“We have to dig, dig down deep,” linebacker Ben Moffitt said. “Through whatever adversity comes our way, we have to keep digging. Roots, rocks, concrete wall, it doesn’t matter. We keep digging.”
Have the Bulls (7-3, 2-3) buried the problems that took them from No. 2 in the nation to tied for last in the Big East standings? They committed only one turnover, went 7-for-7 in the red zone with five touchdowns and played a complete game defensively.
“We went from start to finish, and it felt good to get back to playing South Florida football,” cornerback Trae Williams said. “All week, we talked about ‘swarm and punish’ and getting back to how we played in the first six games.”
USF set a school record with 582 yards of total offense, with freshman running backs Mike Ford (pounding on 28 carries) and Aston Samuels (on two big end-arounds) getting their first 100-yard games and Matt Grothe throwing for 181 yards and two scores.
“We wanted to establish the running game, and I thought Mike Ford ran pretty well,” coach Jim Leavitt said.
USF took care of the ball after committing a school-record eight turnovers in last week’s loss to Cincinnati.
“If they’re not making mistakes, they are very hard to beat,” Syracuse coach Greg Robinson said. “That’s the kind of team they were for about six weeks.”
The Orange, meanwhile, muffed the opening kickoff, and Ford scored three plays later. With starter Ben Williams out with an ankle injury, the Bulls leaned heavily on Ford, who had been used sparingly of late, totaling 143 yards in the last seven games.
His 134 yards is a career high, and his 28 carries are the most by a USF player this season. He had 16 rushes for 85 yards in the third quarter, leading the way on three touchdown drives.
“I get stronger and stronger as I run,” said Ford, slowed by a rib injury in the last two games. “I had to be patient and wait my time. I’m just a freshman, and patience is part of a running back’s thing.”
Samuels took an end-around 75 yards to set up a field goal, and went 26 yards on the same play two drives later, setting up a 15-yard touchdown from Grothe to Carlton Mitchell for a 17-0 lead.
USF’s defense held Syracuse (2-8, 1-4) to 15 rushing yards – the lowest ever against USF by a I-A opponent. Up 20-3 at halftime, the Bulls put the game away in the third quarter, allowing Grothe and Ford to watch the fourth quarter from the sidelines.
"(Ford) did a lot today. He had an outstanding game, and I think everybody knows he can do that," said Grothe, who rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown. "He got his opportunity today and showed what he can do. I think this will be a big motivating game for us going into the last three games of the season."
The Bulls passed their shovel around on the sideline Saturday, and it will be back next week for the Bulls’ home finale against Louisville. After trailing at halftime by 16 and 18 points in the last two losses, the Bulls understand how good they can be when they aren’t digging themselves a big hole early.
“At first, everybody was like, ‘Why does he have a shovel?’’ Williams said of the Friday night motivation. “After he started talking, it really made sense. Just dig down deep and come ready to play.”