Here's the story: USF sends a message
Here's a sneak preview of the story you'll read in Sunday's paper. Of course, LSU and Kentucky are in overtime, which could lead to another story entirely ...
TAMPA – The message delivered Saturday was postmarked for Orlando, but No. 5 USF’s 64-12 obliteration of Central Florida will be registered across the country.
“They’ve been talking smack the whole week,” defensive end Jarriett Buie said. “A lot of people doubted us, underestimated us. We had to show them what it’s all about.”
USF (6-0) threw for a school-record 365 yards, including 212 from quarterback Matt Grothe, who also rushed for 100 yards and accounted for four touchdowns before watching the fourth quarter from the bench, along with an announced sellout of 65,948 fans at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bulls defense continued to dominate, holding UCF (3-3) to 145 total yards and limiting running back Kevin Smith, who came in as the nation’s leading rusher, to 55 yards, 117 under his average. Defensive end George Selvie had four tackles for loss, and USF turned three first-half UCF turnovers into 17 points.
“I can’t believe anybody would beat us like that,” said UCF quarterback Kyle Israel, held to 13 passing yards on 11 attempts.
The Bulls wanted to prove itself worthy of its high ranking, one week after a lackluster 35-23 win at Florida Atlantic. They also were motivated by comments from Orlando, such as UCF coach George O’Leary jokingly asking what league USF played in.
“All through the week, they were talking about us, not knowing what conference we’re in and this and that,” cornerback Trae Williams said. “We kept our mouth shut and just came ready to play. I’m going to be fired up regardless, but I guess it motivates us a little more.”
Said tackle Walt Walker: “Hearing that, wow. You have to think, why would someone even say that? Push comes to shove, we all have to line up on Saturday. It’s like they forget that.”
The Bulls don’t have time to celebrate long, as they have a short week, traveling to play at Rutgers on Thursday night.
USF scored eight touchdowns, but the biggest came late in the first half, when the Bulls got the ball on their 31 with 1:03 to play. Grothe was masterful, completing passes of 13 and 8 yards, then running for 26 and 10 to get to the 9-yard line with seven seconds left.
“I really wanted to push it,” Leavitt said. “I don’t think you could have done a better job on that. … The efficiency they used, how they moved the ball down the field was extraordinary.”
Leavitt wanted to play it safe and call a run to the middle of the field to set up an easier field goal. Grothe and receiver Taurus Johnson asked for a shot at the end zone, suggesting the exact play.
“Matt and Taurus came up to me and said, ‘It’s there,’” Leavitt said. “I thought, ‘I’m the coach. I’m going to do what I want to do.’ So I said OK.”
Grothe hit Johnson streaking toward the left corner of the end zone, and the Bulls would never look back. They opened the second half with touchdown drives of 64 and 81 yards for a 43-10 lead, allowing Grothe and much of the starting offense an early exit.
His backups weren’t any kinder to UCF. Junior Grant Gregory got his first touchdown pass on a 9-yard throw to Taurus Johnson, then added a 75-yard score to Carlton Mitchell. With 2:26 to play, as USF went for it on a fourth-and-14, senior Anthony Severino got his first career TD on a 28-yard score to Jessie Hester Jr.
The win is well-timed for USF, a dominating win to show poll voters one day before the first BCS standings are released. The focus shifts quickly to Rutgers, who handed the Bulls a 22-20 loss in Tampa last season.
“We’ve only played one game in the Big East,” Leavitt said. “It’s going to be a barnburner, these next number of weeks. You’ve got to see what the Big East is like. It’s very strong, and anybody can beat anybody.”