Sometimes the score doesn’t tell the complete story.
Against Utah Oct. 6, the USF football team took one on the chin, losing 52-21 in a game not nearly as close as the blowout score would indicate. But against Connecticut, it was the Bulls that posted a victory much more convincing than the 19-point differential which showed up on the scoreboard when the final gun sounded at Raymond James Stadium Saturday.
Behind a stingy defense and five touchdowns from Marquel Blackwell, USF dismantled the Huskies 40-21 before 26,802 people in the first of six consecutive home games for the Bulls.
“That was a huge win for us,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “You can do one of two things: you can feel sorry for yourself (after the Utah game). You can cry, you can pout. Or you can go ahead right at adversity and change what had happened. I think you saw that our guys came out and responded.”
In USF’s spread offense, Blackwell proved to be equally as lethal with his legs Saturday as he was with his arm. He scored on TD runs of 3, 1 and 3 yards and passed for two more touchdowns, efficiently executing the Bulls’ offense.
“I told (Blackwell) I thought it was real important to play with great courage,” Leavitt said. “And I felt the most courageous quarterback was going to win this game.”
Blackwell finished the game 23-of-35 for 277 yards, 39 more rushing, and a pair of meaningless interceptions when the Bulls had already put the game away. Blackwell’s main target Saturday, however, wasn’t DeAndrew Rubin, Huey Whittaker or Chris Iskra. Saturday was Travis Lipp’s night.
Lipp, who entered the game with one catch on the season, caught five passes for a team-high 59 yards, including a beautiful 27-yard TD catch on the Bulls’ first possession of the second half that gave USF a 33-9 lead and, for all intents and purposes, put the Huskies’ lights out.
Starting from their own 9-yard line, Blackwell led the Bulls on an 8-play, 86-yard drive, capped off by his hookup with Lipp. The junior quarterback went 4-of-5 on the drive, including a pair of completions each to Clenton Crossley and Whittaker, eventually reaching the UConn 27-yard line.
Blackwell then took the shotgun snap, rolled right and fired into the end zone in Lipp’s direction. The freshman receiver slipped while the ball was in the air, but maintained concentration, hauling in the pass on his back for his first career USF touchdown.
“Getting my first start at home and being the leading receiver, that was a good feeling,” Lipp said.
But Lipp and Blackwell were only a portion of the story Saturday. The rest of the night belonged to the defense.
“I was especially proud of our defensive coaches,” Leavitt said. “They worked very hard this week, and they put in an awfully good game plan.”
After being knocked down by Utah last week, the USF defense counter-punched its way to an impressive showing Saturday.
Playing without their leading tackler Kawika Mitchell, who was with family after his grandmother passed away, the first-team defense allowed only a 5-yard Taber Small run late in the second quarter.
“Mentally it was tough playing without Kawika because he’s always right there getting everybody hyped up to play,” linebacker Maurice Jones said.
“Everybody had to step up a notch because he wasn’t there.”The defining moments for the USF defense came on the Huskies’ ensuing possession following Small’s score, and lasted until midway through the third quarter. During that stretch, the Bulls’ defense didn’t allow more than three UConn plays on five consecutive possessions, clamping down on the Huskies’ offense. The defense forced three punts and a pair of turnovers during that time – one on a Chris Daley fumble recovery and the other on a Bernard Brown interception.
“Monday through Thursday (at practice) was nothing but heads banging and clanging the whole week,” Lipp said. “We were ready to go and we came in this game knowing we could win and we just put it on them.”