USF flexed the muscles of a Division I-A team Thursday to overmatch Florida Atlantic 51-10. The Bulls’ defense swarmed the Owls, holding the Division I-AA Independent to -39 yards rushing in the first half and registering seven sacks.
The Bulls’ offensive line displayed its prowess too, allowing quarterback Marquel Blackwell to complete 27 of 39 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns, as the Owls couldn’t apply any pressure.
“When we shut down the run game, that made them one-dimensional,” said linebacker Maurice Jones, who recorded two of the sacks. “We pretty much had them after that.”
“As a second-year team, the hardest thing is to build a strong line of scrimmage, and when you can’t run, you’re going to struggle,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said.
A blocked punt by Shurron Pierson gave the Bulls excellent field position for their first drive of the season. With a fourth-and-3 on USF’s 47, Pierson broke through from right end to swat Andy Rosas’ punt and then recovered it at the Owls’ 31. Blackwell went to work from there, connecting on four straight passes, including a 4-yard shovel pass to Clenton Crossley for the game’s first score.
J.R. Reed continued his knack for finding the ball, intercepting a pass from Owls quarterback Jared Allen on FAU’s third drive. Allen scrambled and attempted to throw the ball out of bounds, but Reed made a diving interception.
The Bulls’ special teams got into the act in the second quarter. Sidney Simpson laid a devastating block as Brian Fisher raced 66 yards before being pushed out at the 2-yard line. Simpson decleated FAU punter Andy Rosas, knocking him out of the game with a concussion. Crossley ran it in three plays later to push the Bulls’ advantage to 17-3 with five minutes, 51 seconds remaining.
“He was jogging, and I just got him,” Simpson said. “It sent a rush through me. The offense and defense came out real sluggish, and we just had to find some way to pick everyone up.
“If we’re going to do anything this year, special teams is going to be a big part of everything.”
DeAndrew Rubin flashed his ability to return kicks in the fourth quarter, taking a Tom Carluccio punt 56 yards for a score. In the season finale of 2001, Rubin raced 91 yards on a punt for a touchdown vs. Utah State.
The Bulls’ special teams also received a huge lift from kicker Santiago Gramatica. A perfect 6-for-6 on extra points, Gramatica was spotless on field goals as well, connecting on attempts of 34, 35 and 20 yards.
The Bulls got the ball back with 2:19 left to play in the half and put on a picture-perfect two-minute drill. Chris Iskra and Elgin Hicks tiptoed the sideline for a pair of grabs to set up Gramatica’s second field goal as time expired to send the Bulls to the locker room with a 20-3 lead.
Fisher’s 12-yard touchdown catch in the third extended the margin to 27-3, but the Owls answered with their best drive of the game. Allen hooked up with Brittney Tellis for 31 yards on a third-and-15, then found Thomas Parker for 41 yards down to the three. Allen then scrambled and found a diving Ben Coker at the back of the end zone for FAU’s lone touchdown.
The Bulls widened their lead from there, adding a Hugh Smith eight-yard touchdown on an end around to push the score to 34-10, and redshirt freshman running back Billy Henderson’s first touchdown with 56 seconds to play in the fourth capped USF’s scoring.