After three games decided by eight points or less, the No. 10 South Florida Bulls (5-0) took any potential drama out of Saturday’s game against North Carolina State by taking the lead on their first drive and never looking back.
Junior quarterback Matt Grothe had 317 yards of total offense — more than the Wolfpack had as a team — and led the Bulls to a 41-10 road win.
“It was a good win for us,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said. “I was pretty happy. I thought the courage that our players played with was really good. We made a number of mistakes here and there … but overall, I was pretty happy.”
The Bulls started quick, scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions. In the first quarter, Grothe had nearly 150 yards of total offense.
“We felt like we could throw the ball a little bit today, and we did,” Leavitt said. “And I was really happy about it. He did a real good job.”
The USF defense had its strongest outing of the season. USF allowed 265 yards of total offense and matched its season total of turnovers with three interceptions.
USF defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien’s comments about the Bulls being unable to stop the spread offense motivated the defense.
“Yeah, (they were motivated),” Burnham said. “There’s no doubt … they took it personally that our defense wasn’t very good and those kind of things, and we let them take it personally. We’ll take anything that helps us. We’re not greedy.”
The defense helped USF jump out to a 28-3 halftime lead. After Grothe led the Bulls to three consecutive touchdown drives, the defense forced two safeties.
In USF’s history, the team has forced five safeties in 130 games.
“It’s the first time we’ve had a complete game. It’s about time,” Burnham said. “In five games, we should have a complete game by now. We did things (Saturday) that our kids enjoy, too. We turned them loose, and we blitzed a little bit more than we have in the past. They enjoy that, and that’s the kind of football team we are, really.”
The defense was able to shut down the Wolfpack offense without several key players.
Junior defensive end George Selvie didn’t play because of an ankle injury suffered during the Florida International game on Sept. 20. Sophomore Terrell McClain, a starting defensive tackle, also missed the game with an injury.
Sophomore Craig Marshall got his first career start with Selvie out of the game. He had two tackles, one sack, a forced fumble and an interception.
“I thought that was a neat little deal,” Leavitt said. “It really was because George couldn’t play tonight, and Terrell McClain — another starter — couldn’t play tonight and Sampson was playing very limited.”
During practices leading up to Saturday’s game, Leavitt said he had confidence in Marshall.
“We knew Craig (Marshall) would play hard, and we thought we’d have to play (Patrick) Hampton a little bit more, but we didn’t,” he said.
Senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie had five tackles and his first career interception. He attributed his success on the field, along with the rest of the defense’s, O’Brien’s criticism of the Bulls.
Burnham responded to O’Brien’s comments by asking what bowl game N.C. State went to. The Wolfpack finished 2007 uneligible for a bowl game after finishing 5-7.
“We didn’t really take it to heart until we saw Coach Burnham say that comment,” he told the St. Petersburg Times. “Once he fired back, the whole defense fired back. You know we’re going to back him up. He’s our coach — he’s our leader in war. Whatever he says, we live by.”
Grothe said Saturday’s win was huge because the Bulls are beginning Big East play.
Leavitt agreed with the quarterback.
“They’re ahead of us in the BIg East. Thursday is going to be huge.”