ST. PETERSBURG — Missing three suspended starters in the first half, USF needed a spark Saturday from its backups.
Enter tight end Ben Busbee, who stepped in for senior Cedric Hill.
Busbee, a 6-foot-3 junior from Mobile, Ala., came into the game with five catches for 65 yards this season (and nine for 97 for his career). But he came up big for the Bulls in the first half of their 41-14 win over Memphis in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
"Ben did a great job," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "He made a nice catch. He made a move, and he got the ball into the end zone."
On third and 10 from the Memphis 13 in the second quarter, quarterback Matt Grothe hit Busbee on a short route.
Busbee turned, broke one tackle then ran through a second defender before diving into the end zone for his second touchdown of the season, which put USF up 24-7.
"I have to give the credit to all of my teammates," said Busbee, whose other catch of the game was a 21-yarder during the Bulls' second touchdown drive of the first quarter.
"The offensive line blocked great, and Matt's always making all the plays. It was an unbelievable experience."
Grothe said he was happy to get Busbee — his roommate — the ball during the bowl game.
"He's always messing with me about getting him a touchdown," said Grothe, who hit Busbee for a 15-yard touchdown in a 24-20 loss to Louisville on Oct. 25.
"I thought the play was over. So I was looking to the sideline for the next play, and I heard a bang. Then I looked up and saw Ben diving into the end zone. He was excited, and I was excited for him."
Despite the low number of catches, tight ends coach Larry Scott said he was confident Busbee could produce in place of Hill, who entered the game in the second half.
"Ben's been around for a long time, and he's worked hard all year," Scott said. "He's naturally gifted. He knows our offense. He knows what we require of him, and he just came out and played a good game."
Offensive coordinator Greg Gregory said plays such as Busbee's touchdown are important.
"The one thing we haven't had is a back break off a 50-yard run; get around a tackle and just go. And we haven't had a receiver catch it underneath and then score," he said. "It wasn't a long one, but he caught it underneath and scored. You've got to have plays like that."