By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
USF 31, UCF 14: In the first game of the instate "rivalry" the Bulls rely on the senior running back, who responds with 189 yards.
TAMPA - Speaking of lopsided rivalries, here was one that developed quickly as something fun to watch Saturday night: USF's Andre Hall vs. anyone from Central Florida trying to tackle him.
The Knights, who waited nine years for a chance to play their younger, fast-rising I-4 neighbors, saw plenty of the Bulls' senior running back, who dashed, darted and spun for 189 yards and two touchdowns in a resounding 31-14 USF win before a crowd of 45,139, the largest ever for the Bulls at Raymond James Stadium.
Hall finished with 153 yards rushing on 22 carries.
The Bulls, running behind a dominating offensive line, carried the ball more times than any game in their history, turning to the ground game for 80 percent of their first-half plays. And because the Knights couldn't keep hold of Hall, they were left holding the nation's longest losing streak at 17 games.
The Bulls (2-1) had lost four straight against Division I-A opponents themselves, but that streak was in danger from the start. USF's defense took a shutout into the second half for the second week in a row, holding the Knights to 135 total yards in the first three quarters.
UCF (0-2) came into the game with the nation's No. 5 rushing defense, having held South Carolina to 32 rushing yards in its season opener. The Bulls more than doubled that rushing total on their first drive.
The Bulls ran the ball on 19 of their first 23 plays, and even when Hall went to the sideline for six plays with a hand injury, the Knights had no answer for USF's running attack. Redshirt freshman Ricky Ponton broke runs of 12 and 16 yards, and on Hall's first play back in the game he broke loose for 28 yards, including two full spins to elude defenders.
For all of USF's early dominance, it led only 7-0 midway through the second quarter before taking over with two scores in the final 3:02.
With Hall momentarily sidelined with an injured hand, the Bulls marched 60 yards in 12 plays, getting a 26-yard pass to Johnny Peyton and steady running by quarterback Pat Julmiste and Ponton, who finished the drive with a 3-yard touchdown.
USF's defense stepped up, as linebacker Ben Moffitt sacked UCF quarterback Steven Moffett, forcing a fumble that Tavarious Robinson recovered for the Bulls on the UCF 32. Three plays later Julmiste floated a screen pass to Hall, who weaved through UCF defenders for 26 yards and a touchdown with 59 seconds left in the half.
And as was the case last week, USF's defense showed little resemblance to last year's squad. Central Florida crossed midfield once in the first half, and that drive ended when the Bulls forced an incompletion on fourth-and-5 from the USF 31.
Down 21-0 at halftime, UCF foiled the shutout in the third quarter when freshman defensive back Joe Burnett returned a Brandon Baker punt 60 yards to the USF 4-yard line. On the next play Moffett ran around the right side for the Knights' first touchdown.
The Bulls settled it on the ensuing drive, with one Hall run after another, the last taking USF to the 1-yard line, from where Julmiste kept it for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead. Freshman walk-on Kyle Bronson, in his second game as the Bulls' kicker, added a field goal early in the fourth quarter.
UCF added a touchdown late in the fourth quarter when Moffett passed 9 yards into the end zone to Brandon Marshall.
Hall, who passed Clenton Crossley to move into second place on USF's career rushing list in his 14th career game, had 96 rushing yards by halftime. The former Dixie Hollins star and Julmiste were able to watch most of the last quarter from the sideline, with backup Courtney Denson finishing the game behind center.
Since USF launched its program in 1997, Central Florida has wanted to open a rivalry, but it took until Saturday for the teams to meet. The two meet again in Orlando next season, but the Bulls have been hesitant to commit to extending the relationship beyond that.
One week after setting their Raymond James Stadium record with 43,122 fans against Florida A&M, the Bulls broke that mark with 45,139 for another first-time rivalry. USF tries for an even larger attendance this week in its Big East debut against Louisville.