For a change, the second half meant something. This time, the South Florida faithful had to sweat for a while after intermission.
For two minutes, to be precise.
After finishing off its previous four foes by halftime, USF waited until the third quarter Saturday to pull away, breaking open a close game to beat Western Illinois 48-17 before 23,252.
USF (7-3) won its fifth straight, all at home, in much the same manner as the first four _ with an explosive offense under the masterful guidance of junior quarterback Marquel Blackwell.
Leading just 21-17 at halftime, Blackwell, playing with turf toe that limited his mobility, led the Bulls 63 yards in two minutes with the second-half kickoff. He finished the drive with a 1-yard keeper to give USF an 11-point lead, and the Bulls would add three scores while totaling 509 yards of offense.
"It was another great job by Marquel," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "He showed a lot of courage out there."
"We got it moving, kept getting better and started moving it up and down the field," said USF wide receiver Hugh Smith, who had four catches for 80 yards. "The offensive line started doing a great job and gave Marquel time, and he was looking good."
Blackwell finished 20-for-33 for 277 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Wide receivers Smith and DeAndrew Rubin and running back Quinton Callum also had big games.
Callum (19 rushes, 80 yards), a sophomore, equaled a school single-game record with four touchdowns; Smith gained 194 all-purpose yards; and Rubin had three catches for 81 yards and four punt returns for 54.
The USF defense allowed 223 yards in the first half but shut out the Leathernecks in the second, holding them to 53 yards on 31 plays.
"We made a number of (halftime adjustments)," Leavitt said. "The quarterback (Sam Clemons) was moving, and we had to get him contained. We (also) made some coverage changes, and our guys played with a little more purpose."
With a win in its final game, against Utah State on Nov. 24 at home, USF will finish 8-3 in its first Division I-A season. The Bulls also could add to their 12-game home win streak, tied for seventh-longest in the nation with Auburn.
Several USF players are hurt, including offensive linemen Derrick Sarosi and Matt Sparrowhawk, who have shoulder injuries, and Leavitt said the Bulls could use the off week.
"We're a banged-up football team," Leavitt said. "I appreciate the guts of the guys that are playing right now."
The Bulls pounced quickly. USF was forced to punt on its first possession, but J.R. Reed stripped Western Illinois punt returner Quentin Brown, and Alvin Salter covered it at the 5-yard line. Three plays later, Callum scored for a 6-0 lead. Santiago Gramatica's PAT was blocked.
"He's something special," Leavitt said of Reed, a safety who also had an interception. "He's got a chance to be awfully good."
Later in the first quarter, USF's Vince Brewer (18 carries, 92 yards) fumbled near midfield, and Western Illinois (4-5) capitalized with a 53-yard touchdown drive for a 7-6 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Smith fumbled in a similar manner to Brewer _ after breaking several tackles and while fighting to break one more. Western Illinois again had great field position, and the resourceful Clemons threw a 36-yard touchdown to Frisman Jackson. The 14-6 deficit was the Bulls' largest since the 52-21 loss Oct. 6 at Utah.
USF answered with two quick scores. Smith made amends on the next kickoff, taking it up the middle 53 yards to the 38. The Bulls needed just five plays from there, with Callum carrying it in from the 1. The two-point conversion pass tied it at 14.
Blackwell engineered an 88-yard touchdown drive on USF's next series, and Callum again scored, this time on an 8-yard shovel pass. Western Illinois countered with a short field goal, and USF missed a 36-yard field goal by Justin Geisler just before halftime.
The Bulls took charge on the first possession of the third quarter, with Blackwell scoring on a sneak to put USF up 28-17. It was his ninth rushing touchdown of the season, tying the USF record set by Dyral McMillan (1999) and Otis Dixon (1998).
A 38-yard run on a reverse by Smith set up Callum's fourth touchdown and made it 35-17 in the middle of the third quarter.
A 21-yard pass from Blackwell to Ryan Hearn, his first touchdown, pushed it to 41-17 in the fourth quarter. Brian Fisher had a 5-yard run to complete the scoring.