Since the inception of USF’s football program nine years ago, the University of Central Florida has salivated at the prospect of playing its neighbors to the west.
When it finally happened, the Knights (0-2) fell flat and the Bulls (2-1) proceeded to trample all over them for a convincing 31-14 victory Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.
“This game really meant a lot,” said USF running back Andre Hall, who rushed 22 times for 155 yards. “We really needed it.”
As expected, Hall stood out on an efficient USF offense. The senior scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter, and in the second quarter he took a short pass from quarterback Pat Julmiste and juked his way into the end zone for a 26-yard score.
A week after racking up a school-record 377 rushing yards against Florida A&M, the Bulls ran for 326 against a UCF defense that allowed South Carolina only 32 yards two weeks ago.
It didn’t take long for Hall and Co. to top that. On their first drive, the Bulls rushed successfully 10 out of 12 times for 75 yards.
“I was really pleased with our running game,” said USF coach Jim Leavitt, whose offense had the ball for a school-record 39 minutes and 45 seconds. “Andre Hall ran really well. What was really important is that we didn’t allow them to run the ball.”
Before a stadium-record home crowd of 45,139, USF didn’t disappoint. After jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead, the Bulls scored twice within the last three minutes of the half and led 21-0 at the break.
After UCF quarterback Steven Moffett scored midway through the third quarter, the Bulls answered back immediately. On the ensuing drive, Julmiste scored on a 1-yard run, sealing the win for USF and extending UCF’s losing streak to 17.
For the second straight week, USF’s defense, ranked eighth nationally, dominated. After three quarters, before most of the starters were pulled, the Knights had 135 yards of total offense and minus 5 yard rushing.
UCF might have not scored on the first team defense had it not been for a punt return to the Bulls’ 5-yard line that preceded Moffett’s 5-yard touchdown run.
“We’re showing that we’re doing better things,” Leavitt said, referring to the defense. “Our guys are playing together.”
The Bulls travel to Orlando next year to face the Knights at the Citrus Bowl. After that, it’s unclear whether USF versus UCF will become an annual event.
“We know it’s an important game,” Leavitt said. “We just kind of work and play the game. I’m not going to go off on this and that.”
USF will play its first Big East game this Saturday when No. 9 Louisville visits.
According to Leavitt, whose Bulls lost 41-9 to Louisville last season, the team will have to improve to compete with the Cardinals.
“I know our guys were thinking about Louisville,” he said. “We’re going to have to play one heck of a ballgame to have a chance.”