USF Bulls dominate Skyhawks in season opener

by Peter Pupello


The #19 Bulls kicked off the 2008 season with the second-highest attended home opener in USF history, in a 56-7 win against overmatched Tennessee-Martin.

The Bulls sluggish performances in their past two season-openers, against Elon and McNeese State, apparently taught them something: do not take any opponent for granted.

“The thing I’m happiest about is that sometimes we’ve played a team like that and we haven’t done what we were supposed to do,” coach Jim Leavitt said. This Saturday night was a different story. The Bulls did exactly what they wanted to do, and more.

Early this season it was evident that the Bulls would have no trouble finding options on offense thanks to a depth chart of dangerous playmakers. Junior quarterback Matt Grothe got his reps in early and opened scoring for the Bulls with an 18-yard pass to Jessie Hester for a quick 7-0 lead just five minutes into the game.

Grothe hooked up with Hester again in the second quarter, finishing the night 6-of-8 with 96 yards passing and two touchdowns before yielding to backup quarterbacks Grant Gregory and B.J. Daniels.

It appeared sophomore running back Mike Ford didn’t miss a beat during the offseason, continuing on Saturday night where he left off in 2007. Last season, Ford set a Bulls freshman record for 13 touchdowns in a single season, 12 of them rushing, making him the team leader. Ford scored on two runs of four and six yards in the first quarter to extend the Bulls lead to 21. The other half of the dynamic duo, Benjamin Williams, added a touchdown run of 12 yards that concluded a Bulls record 28-point opening quarter.

[Our guys] took it upon themselves, and they wanted to come out and start real strong and play well,” Leavitt said. “Our last game that everybody remembers was our bowl game, and that wasn’t a lot of fun. So it was kind of important to get out and play good football.”

The Bull’s defense was equally impressive, forcing pressure in the pocket and completely shutting down any Tennessee-Martin attack. The Bulls allowed just 97 yards of total offense and 0 points. The Skyhawks’ only score came on a defensive fumble recovery by Dontrell Miller, which he returned for a touchdown.

“We wanted to set the tone early, especially on defense,” safety Carlton Williams said, “Once you start, you don’t want to let anybody get momentum. Our goal was to keep going and keep going and don’t let up.”

Offense and defense set the tone, and senior Marcus Edwards stole the show on special teams. Edwards set a new Bulls record with 124 yards on seven punt returns.

Coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons, The Bulls has evolved from their status as one of the Sunshine State’s mediocre programs and are now a force to be reckoned with.

The Bulls face some tough teams this season with games against Kansas, Pittsburgh, and the finale against West Virginia in Morgantown. With last season’s collapse in mind, the Bulls will have to stay focused to conquer the challenge of college football’s toughest leap: going from good to great.