Western Carolina jumped out to an early 14-3 lead on the heels of quarterback Troy Mitchell and running back Darius Ramsey, but USF was able to fight its way back in a tight game at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday.
After a rough start with sophomore Mike White completing only five of his first 19 passes, USF looked to freshman Marlon Mack for a spark.
With the Bulls down 14-6 and fearing back-to-back season opening letdowns, Mack darted off the right tackle, outrunning two Western Carolina defensive backs for a 62-yard touchdown.
“He had two fumbles I think, but when he got back on the sideline, he said ‘I owe y’all,’” senior Todd Chandler said. “That’s something you usually don’t see from a freshman and he had four touchdowns tonight, so he paid us back.”
Mack put his speed to the test yet again to the tune of a 60-yard touchdown to put the Bulls up 17-23 with 4:57 left in the third quarter. The touchdown gave the Bulls their first of the game.
Mack would end up with 23 carries for 275 rushing yards on the night along with all four of USF’s offensive touchdowns. Those 275 yards tied the all-time single-game rushing record previously held by Andre Hall, who rushed for 275 yards on 29 carries in 2004 against UAB.
Sophomore running back Darius Tice was the expected starter for the Bulls, but a tweak to his knee in practice had the coaching staff wary of using him Saturday night.
The Bulls struggled mightily through the first half, but were able to overcome the deficit and hold off the Catamounts.
“I was impressed with how the guys handled (adversity),” coach Willie Taggart said. “I didn’t see anybody hanging their heads, I didn’t see anybody arguing with someone else. I saw people encouraging one another.”
A couple of notable Bulls left Saturday’s game, including seniors left guard Thor Jozwiak, who left due to a shoulder injury, and wide receiver Andre Davis, who left the game due to a bruised sternum after a big 44-yard reception on third down right before the half.
After pulling away late, the Catamounts were able to bring the game within reach, but Mack struck again with a game-sealing 56-yard run.
Quarterback Mike White finished the game 9-for-26 for 181 yards and an interception.
The Bulls were able to close out the win 36-31 with 486 total yards. They look ahead to Maryland on Sept. 6.