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Dominance leads to relief
The Bulls, who had to rally for all three previous victories this year, never allow the Huskies to take the lead.
By GREG AUMAN
Published October 8, 2006
[Times photo: Edmund D. Fountain]
Benjamin Williams runs into the end zone to score a touchdown in the first quarter against Connecticut to put the score at 13-0.
TAMPA - Last year, a disappointing loss to Connecticut sparked a three-game losing streak to end USF's season. This season, the Bulls hope a turnover-free, dominating win against the Huskies can have the opposite effect.
For the first time this season, USF jumped to an early lead and kept it the whole way, pulling away from the Huskies for an easy 38-16 victory before 30,010 at Raymond James Stadium.
"It was getting kind of old, these comeback victories," said quarterback Matt Grothe, who had led second-half comebacks in each of USF's previous wins. "It's kind of nice to not have to worry. We needed this, big-time."
USF (4-2, 1-1) got another big-time game from Grothe, who rushed for three touchdowns and was an efficient 12-for-15 throwing against what had been the Big East's top pass defense.
The Bulls recalled last year's UConn game and were motivated by it all week in practice.
"We had a big chip on our shoulder. Last year, they got us," linebacker Patrick St. Louis said. "They took away our chance to play for a Big East championship."
The Bulls found the running game they had missed for a month, with walk-on Ben Williams rushing for a career-best 108 yards and a touchdown. More impressive, USF held Terry Caulley, the Huskies' career rushing leader, to 38 yards, with only 3 coming in the second half.
"How about this: Terry Caulley only had 38 yards rushing. That is the key," coach Jim Leavitt said.
The biggest difference between Saturday's win and last year's loss? The Bulls committed five turnovers last season but none Saturday, the first time they went without one in 11 games.
"It's huge. Turnovers is probably the main stat that I go by," Leavitt said. "I don't go by possession time; I really don't go by rushing or passing offense. I go by turnovers. That was big."
The Huskies (2-3, 0-1) trailed 14-9 at halftime but had just three offensive plays before the Bulls stretched that lead to 28-9 on two Grothe rushing touchdowns.
All five of USF's conference wins since joining the Big East have been by at least 14 points, but this was a relief compared to the Bulls' previous wins this season.
USF trailed in the second half of all three of its victories. The Bulls had scored seven points in the opening quarter of their first five games, but had 14 in the first six minutes Saturday.
Connecticut's first punt was blocked by redshirt freshman Jerome Murphy and recovered by linebacker Sam Miller, setting the Bulls up on the Huskies' 16-yard line. Grothe scored on the opening offensive play with his fifth rushing touchdown of the season.
After another Connecticut punt, Grothe found receiver S.J. Green for a 31-yard gain, setting up a 13-yard touchdown run by Williams.
Grothe gave the crowd a scare in the second quarter, as he injured his right foot. He was back on the next drive and didn't miss a step, rushing for 82 yards and becoming the second quarterback in USF history to rush for three touchdowns in a game.
The score wasn't always lopsided. After its initial 14-point burst, USF punted on its next four possessions with three three-and-out drives. Connecticut pulled within 14-6 on a 10-yard pass from Matt Bonislawski to Deon Anderson.
The Huskies had a chance for a tying touchdown in the final minute of the first half, but USF's defense held on third and goal from the 2, forcing Connecticut to settle for a 19-yard field goal to trail 14-9 at the half.
USF opened the second half as dominant as it was to start the first, with Grothe finding Green wide open for a 31-yard gain, then finishing the drive with an 8-yard scramble.
The Bulls forced a three-and-out, and Grothe led USF on a 92-yard touchdown drive, rushing four times for 36 yards and finding receiver Amarri Jackson for a 34-yard gain to the 6-yard line. Again, Grothe finished the drive himself for a 28-9 lead, putting the game out of reach.
Saturday's win is the kind players hope will carry over into the second half of the season.
"It gives us back a big boost of confidence," Green said. "This gives us the confidence to be right back in the Big East race."