It took USF the better part of three quarters to put away Wofford in its season opener, but the Bulls eventually pulled away for a comfortable 40-7 win.
It took a lot longer and was far less comfortable to shake Division I-A newcomer Western Kentucky on Saturday night.
USF senior quarterback Matt Grothe threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns, Mo Plancher rushed for 115 yards and two scores, and USF used a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter to leave Houchens Industries-LT Smith Stadium with a 35-13 win.
“This is a good win,” said USF coach Jim Leavitt to the Bowling Green Daily News. “They were in a new stadium, and there was emotion, and I thought it was going to be a tough ballgame.”
Battling the emotion of a “blackout” at the newly-renovated stadium, USF went into halftime up 14-6. USF took a 21-6 lead on a 7-yard touchdown scramble by B.J. Daniels, but the Hilltoppers cut the deficit to 21-13 on a 15-yard touchdown run from Marell Booker.
However, the Hilltoppers made it hard for themselves all game, committing 13 penalties for 124 yards, including one that negated a 14-yard touchdown run in the first half.
“I think our guys were fired up. I think when I go back and look that some of them were just effort penalties,” said Western Kentucky coach David Elson. “They were playing hard and fighting and scratching. We just have to learn how to play under control better. They were mental mistakes.”
The Bulls had their share of mental mistakes, too. On an incomplete third-down pass by Western Kentucky, USF committed a personal foul that aided Booker’s touchdown run.
After a Western Kentucky punt in the first quarter, the ball bounced off a USF defender and the Hilltoppers recovered. WKU also picked off Grothe late in the first half.
“You have to give them credit,” Leavitt said to the Daily News. “Athletically, we are a much better team, but they played with a little more heart than we did at times.”
Grothe, who also had 53 rushing yards, moved into top position on the Big East’s all-time yards list, passing former West Virginia quarterback Pat White. Grothe now has 10,702 yards in his career.
“You’ve got to give him a lot of credit,” Elson said. “We knew going in that (Grothe) was a heck of a player and tonight he kept plays alive and extended plays. That makes it difficult on your secondary.”
Plancher, who found the end zone twice in the Wofford victory, scored two touchdowns Saturday, including a 20-yard run for the Bulls’ final score. Plancher’s 115 yards gave him his first career 100-yard rushing game.