No. 19 USF uses Grothe's early TDs to put away Tennessee-Martin

TAMPA, Fla. -- Matt Grothe had a good feeling about No. 19 South Florida's season opener, and not just because the Bulls were facing an outmatched opponent in tiny Tennessee-Martin.

In the days leading up to Saturday night's game, the junior quarterback and teammates harped on a lesson learned from a meteoric rise -- and fall -- in 2007. Don't take any opponent for granted.

"I kind of saw it coming, just [because of] the things that happened here last year," Grothe said after South Florida scored on its first four possessions, bucking a tendency to play up -- or in some cases, down -- to the level of competition in a 56-7 rout at Raymond James Stadium.

"It would be nice," he added, "if all of them were like that."

USF climbed as high as No. 2 in the country before plummeting from national championship contention with three straight losses in the Big East last season.

And while no one dared try to compare facing Tennessee-Martin to playing Rutgers, Connecticut or Cincinnati, the Bulls struggled for stretches of season-opening wins over Elon and McNeese State the previous two years and didn't want to begin with another sluggish performance.

Mission accomplished.

Grothe threw TD passes of 18 and 22 yards to Jessie Hester and Mike Ford scored on runs of 4 and 6 yards, helping the Bulls build a 35-0 halftime lead. A 12-yard scoring run by Benjamin Williams finished a school-record 28-point first quarter.

Tennessee-Martin, sixth in the Ohio Valley Conference a year ago, opened on the road against a Bowl Championship Subdivision team for the fourth time in five seasons and has been outscored 162-23 in those games.

The Skyhawks won't face another high-profile opponent until they visit Auburn on Nov. 8, but the large checks FCS schools typically receive for playing games like these make the trips more than worthwhile.

"I was happy with how we played," South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said. "I do recognize that we've got different teams ahead. None of you have to share that with me. I recognize that, and I think our team does, too.

"I'm sure that Tennessee-Martin will do good in their league, but that's not what we're going to be facing."

Cade Thompson, one of two returning Tennessee-Martin quarterbacks who threw for over 1,000 yards last season, started but had little success moving the ball against a defense led by USF All-American end George Selvie.

Backup Dexter Anoka played, too, but was unable to get the ball to the end zone, either.

There were only a couple of highlights for the Skyhawks, both involving defensive back Dontrell Miller, who had a second-quarter interception and later picked up a third-quarter fumble by USF backup quarterback B.J. Daniels and ran 64 yards for Tennesee-Martin's only TD.

Thompson finished 6-of-19 for 25 yards and one interception, while Dexter was 3-of-7 for 13 yards for the Skyhawks, who were outgained 520 yards to 97, with nearly half of Tennessee-Martin's production coming in the fourth quarter.

Miller returned his interception 33 yards to the USF 30. Four plays later, the Skyhawks punted from the 36.

In addition to sloppy performances in the past two openers, Leavitt said the Bulls were driven by recollections of their final game of last season -- a lopsided loss to Oregon in the Sun Bowl.

"We talked a lot. They took it upon themselves, and they wanted to come out and start real strong and play well," the coach said. "Our last game that everybody remembers was our bowl game, and that wasn't a lot of fun. So it was kind of important to get out and play good football."