The Bulls 28-13 victory over Elon wasn’t how coach Jim Leavitt would have scripted his team’s first game of the year, but he’ll take it.
“At least we won the game. We didn’t do anything beautifully, but we won the game,” Leavitt said. “It ended up being something else kind of ugly.”
In a contest filled with untimely penalties, dropped passes and poor play on special teams, USF still had plenty of bright spots to turn to after the game.
Freshman running back Mike Ford shined in his debut, scoring three touchdowns and totaling 84 yards on just seven carries.
Ford’s effort helped the Bulls gain 175 yards on the ground, nearly 30 more yards than the Bulls averaged rushing last
USF was able to accomplish the feat even with quarterback Matt Grothe throwing a career-high 39 pass attempts. Instead of trying to run out the clock with a 22-point lead late in the game, the Bulls opted to pass. The tactic was to prevent Auburn from preparing for USF’s running game.
“I don’t think we threw a lot at them,” Grothe said. “We just need to get better as a whole if we’re going to have a chance next week (against Auburn).”
The main focus for the Bulls improvement will be on special teams play. USF botched a punt attempt in the first quarter and muffed a punt in the fourth quarter, but thanks to a stellar defensive effort, the Phoenix were unable to convert the opportunities into points.
The biggest mistake USF made was a 15-yard roughing-the-kicker penalty on a punt, resulting in the lone touchdown for Elon, when freshman quarterback Scott Riddle found Terrell Hudgins for a 26-yard score.
The Bulls committed nine penalties for 89 yards, allowing the Phoenix to stay within striking distance for a majority of the night.
“We had so many chances to completely blow this thing out, and we kept not doing it,” Leavitt said. “We’ve got to get disciplined … there’s some personnel we’ve got to change and we will.”
The defensive line held Elon to just 33 rushing yards on 30 attempts. Last season, the Bulls held six of their 13 opponents to under 100 yards rushing.
Defensive end George Selvie may have given the Bulls their most impressive performance of the night. Selvie set a school record with six tackles for a loss and tied Shurron Pierson with four sacks.
The total ranks him first in the nation, as no other player at a Division I-A school recorded more than two during the first week of play.
“All the offseason work I’ve been doing on my pass-rush came together tonight,” Selvie said. “I just played relentless football; you have to play like that.”
Last year, Selvie totaled 5.5 sacks as he was named a Sporting News freshman All-American. His nine tackles fell one short of a personal record he set against Cincinnati.
The biggest question facing the Bulls entering the season was the quality at the outside linebacker positions. 2006 starters Stephen Nicholas – who was a fourth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons – and Patrick St. Louis are no longer with the team.
Juniors Tyrone McKenzie and Brouce Mompremier proved the loss of last year’s duo wouldn’t be devastating. McKenzie, who finished eighth in the country with 129 tackles at Iowa State a year ago, led USF with 9.5 tackles. Mompremier had just 10 career tackles entering the game, and finished with eight, all solo stops.
Mompremier, competing with junior college transfer Donte Spires at the weakside linebacker position, spent the majority of the night on the field, leaving only when USF changed its defensive scheme to a nickel package.
Safety Nate Allen made his first career start and recorded a key second-quarter interception to preserve a 7-3 lead for USF.
“Our defense did some good things,” Leavitt said. “Their backs were against the wall over and over again tonight.”