TAMPA — Even without standout RB Marlon Mack, USF passed its first true test of the season with flying colors Saturday night. Highlighted by an offensive outburst in the first half, the Bulls easily dispatched Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference 48-17 to improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2012.
Return of the Mack (for warmups)
Mack was held out of the game due to concussion protocol after sustaining a hit that knocked him out of last week's opener against Division I-AA Towson in the second quarter. But that didn't stop Bulls coach Willie Taggart from playing some mind games with Northern Illinois before kickoff.
Mack entered the field before the game, suited up in full pads and a helmet, and participated in warmups. He even shimmied to the music and received a loving pat on the head from WR Darnell Salomon during a catching drill. But in the end, though he stayed suited up during the game, Mack remained on the sideline with a white towel draped around his head.
Home sweet home
Lighting up the scoreboard early is starting to become a trend for USF at Raymond James Stadium. By taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter against the Huskies on an 11-yard end-around by WR Rodney Adams and Ryeshene Bronson's 73-yard touchdown catch on Quinton Flowers pass, the Bulls have outscored their past three opponents at home 58-3 in the opening 15 minutes, dating to last season. USF scored 14 against Towson and 27 in an eventual 65-27 drubbing of Cincinnati in November.
A solid debut
Redshirt freshman RT Billy Atterbury made his first start. The former Clearwater Central Catholic standout, listed as the reserve left tackle in USF's initial depth chart, replaced redshirt freshman Marcus Norman against NIU and was used on stunts, pulling to block guards.
He really does it all
From running, catching and even throwing for touchdowns, junior RB D'Ernest Johnson (above) has become known for his versatility. In addition to racking up 158 all-purpose yards and a touchdown, Johnson added to that reputation on special teams against the Huskies, making a solo tackle on the kickoff to open the second half.
Working out the kinks
New P Jonathan Hernandez didn't have the most efficient debut in last week's opener as he tried to fill the shoes of the graduated Mattias Ciabatti. But the Florida State transfer and Manatee High alumnus made up for it against the Huskies. After averaging only 38.5 yards on four punts against Towson, Hernandez booted five — two of which landed inside the 20-yard line — for a 44.2-yard average against NIU. Tony Umholtz owns USF's all-time record with seven punts for a 49.7-yard average at James Madison in 1999.