RALEIGH, N.C. — This time, there was no late-game collapse, no offensive struggle, no disappointing letdown against an unranked opponent.
No. 13 USF shook off last week's lackluster effort at Florida International and dominated North Carolina State at a sold-out Carter-Finley Stadium, cruising to a 41-10 win that should vault the Bulls (5-0) into the Top 10.
"We really talked about how we were disappointed with how we played last week, and I thought they came out and played much better today," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "The courage, I thought, was extraordinary."
The defense, with three key starters out injured, controlled N.C. State (2-3), allowing four first downs in the first half. After three quarters, the Wolfpack had rushed for minus-12 yards, and for the first time this season, the Bulls shut out their opponent in the second half.
"It's the first time we've played a complete game. It's about time," said defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, whose defense was without end George Selvie, tackle Terrell McClain and linebacker Brouce Mompremier.
The Bulls looked like a ranked team on both sides of the ball, dominating the first 20 minutes. USF had touchdown drives of 76, 68 and 81 yards on its first three possessions. By halftime, the lead was 31-10, and the Bulls had outgained the Wolfpack 354-63.
"We pretty much manhandled them up front," said left tackle Ryan Schmidt, whose line didn't allow a sack for the first time this season. "We came right out and did what we were supposed to do. Everybody was on our guy, and our offense is pretty powerful when we get going."
USF piled up 514 yards of total offense, with Matt Grothe completing his first 11 passes and throwing for 148 yards in the first quarter. Running backs Mike Ford, Moise Plancher and Ben Williams combined for 144 rushing yards and two TDs. USF should take momentum into its Big East opener, Thursday night in Tampa against Pittsburgh.
"Tonight, we just executed and took care of the ball," said Grothe, who rushed for a game-high 68 yards. "It's what we've been doing most of the year, and it showed on the scoreboard."
Perhaps the only weakness was allowing deep passes — former Countryside High star Harrison Beck completed only 9 of 32, but threw for 239 yards. A 41-yard pass set up a field goal on the opening drive, and a 48-yarder set up N.C. State's only touchdown. Three other passes for 36, 49 and 36 yards didn't result in points but were a blemish Burnham didn't like.
"It's ridiculous," he said. "I'm embarrassed. Nine for 239 yards? I've never been around anything like that in my life. We've got to straighten that out, or somebody's going to beat us real bad doing that. I hope they're embarrassed, and I hope we're embarrassed as coaches."
N.C. State, which upset then-No. 15 East Carolina on the same field last week, struggled to keep up with the Bulls. Their troubles escalated as heavy rains fell in the second quarter. Twice in a three-minute span, high snaps deep in Wolfpack territory forced N.C. State to take safeties, and when the Bulls stopped scoring touchdowns, they got three field goals from freshman Maikon Bonani, who had a fourth attempt bounce off the right upright.
In a weekend in which three Top 10 teams — No. 1 USC, No. 4 Florida and No. 9 Wisconsin — lost to unranked foes, the Bulls played well enough to move into the Top 10 themselves. With No. 3 Georgia losing to No. 8 Alabama, the Bulls could be as high as No. 9 when today's polls come out.
"It's huge," Grothe said. "We have the second part of our season now. We're 5-0, but realistically we're 0-0. These are the games that matter."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.