Williams rushes the Bulls to win

With his sack of Rusty Smith in the first quarter, defensive end George Selvie broke the single-season record held by Shurron Pierson and Terrence Royal. Selvie has led the nation in sacks (1.5) and tackles for a loss (17.5) since the first week of the season. ORACLE PHOTO/MIKE REYNOLDS

FORT LAUDERDALE- Spending the first quarter of the season as an afterthought, Ben Williams proved Saturday why he remained the starting running back.

Through four games, Williams finished as USF’s leading runner once. During victories against Auburn and West Virginia, the junior combined for five carries and 25 yards.

On Saturday, when the passing attack lost its consistency, Williams became the Bulls’ primary offensive threat and turned in one of the most dominating performances in team history.

“I got out there and ran the ball. I did the best I could do when the ball was in my hands,” Williams said. “It’s always good when (the) coach comes back to you.”

With the ball in his hands, Williams rushed for a career-high 186 yards on 25 carries – the sixth-highest in school history – and set a team record with four touchdowns. His efforts are a major reason why USF moved ahead one spot in the polls instead of slipping dramatically.

Florida Atlantic (3-3) gave the Bulls a greater challenge than anticipated. With 9:54

remaining and USF clinging to a four-point lead, Williams broke the game open for the Bulls.

His 54-yard run was something his teammates have seen often. The 5-foot-7-inch back took a handoff from quarterback Matt Grothe, ran into a group of defenders, bounced outside and shed three tackles to increase the Bulls’ lead to 28-17.

“That was a great experience for me because I hadn’t done it in so long,” Williams said. “I hadn’t done it since high school. Something like that gives you a great boost in confidence. I don’t think I’ve had (a long touchdown) yet in college, so I felt great about doing that.”

Williams’ ability to break tackles has kept him as a main threat at the most competitive position on the team.

“He was a bowling ball – every single yard is hard fought,” center Nick Capogna said. “He can bounce off three or four guys easily. You have to give him credit because he really earned it.”

Paying his dues is something Williams has done continually while at USF. He joined in 2006 as a walk-on and was named the Papajohns.com Bowl MVP before earning a scholarship.

Only Grothe ran for more yards than Williams a year ago, but recruiting last summer focused primarily on the running back position.

During training camp, 11 players were vying for carries and positions as running backs. Coach Carl Franks joked that the entire team was lining up in the backfield.

Alabama transfers Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor cut heavily into Williams’ workload this

season. Ford was the team’s leading rusher and Taylor served as the main back against the Mountaineers.

On Saturday, Ford was serving a one-game suspension for missing class and Taylor sprained his left ankle in the second quarter, leaving Williams as the only experienced back.

As the Bulls completely abandoned their pass offense in the second half, Williams became the pivotal offensive player.

“It was really good – Ben really needed that,” Grothe said. “It is good seeing him do as well as he did because he really stepped up and helped us get to where we ended up at the end of the game.”

Entering the contest, Williams was the third leading rusher on the team with 124 yards. During the fourth quarter alone, he ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns. His 54-yard run was the second-longest play from scrimmage this season for USF.

Williams is now the team’s leading rusher, and only Grothe’s total of seven touchdowns ranks higher. The coaching staff has maintained that Williams is the most complete back on the team. His performance will likely allow him to keep proving that point as the season continues.

“He did a good job. He faced the adversity well and just kept slugging away,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “Ben’s a real good blocker and a good runner. He did a good job.”