TAMPA — A record-setting performance by senior punt returner Marcus Edwards helped spark USF to a 56-7 victory over Tennessee-Martin on Saturday.
Edwards had 90 punt-return yards in the first quarter and set the school record for a game with 124. Ean Randolph held the record with 123 against Florida International on Sept. 6, 2006.
"I didn't even know I set the record until after the game," said Edwards, a 5-foot-11, 172-pound receiver from Mayo. "The guys up front did a really good job opening up holes and running lanes. I had the easy part; I just ran."
USF coach Jim Leavitt said he was impressed.
"Marcus plays very focused," Leavitt said. "I thought his demeanor was good. He did a really good job on his returns. I thought the guys blocking for him did a real good job."
"Marcus did a dang good job today," junior quarterback Matt Grothe said. "He did what he was supposed to and he made plays when he wasn't. He's going to keep that up. I know that."
Grothe said that Edwards giving the team a short field was important in the Bulls' 28-point first quarter.
"He was huge because it not only helps us, it helps out the defense, too," he said. "Even if we didn't score we knew we could back them up. It helps everybody. It helps the offense a lot, too, because it's easier to score when we only have to go 30, 40, or 50 yards."
Edwards, who had 231 yards on 31 returns last season, said his blockers were the reason he succeeded. His first return was 39 yards, 2 yards longer than USF's longest punt return last season.
"The guys up front did a great job with the blocking schemes," he said. "I thought Coach Leavitt did a great job teaching the blocking schemes, and they did a great job executing them."
When Edwards left the game, his replacements followed his lead. Redshirt freshman Patrick Richardson had a 29-yard return in his only attempt. Junior Theo Wilson took a partially blocked punt 67 yards for a touchdown.
"Last year against Elon I thought we struggled on special teams, and that was one area we wanted to work on," Leavitt said. "I thought we did a really good job in the return game tonight."
As a team, USF had 226 punt return yards, breaking a three-year-old record. USF also returned a team-record 10 punts.
"We did what we thought we could do," Leavitt said.
Despite the record night, Edwards said he would not get complacent at the position.
"This win was a great team win, most definitely," Edwards said. "The record was just icing on the cake."