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Ford Is Driving Force

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By BRETT McMURPHY The Tampa Tribune

Published: Sep 2, 2007

TAMPA - In last year's opener, the University of South Florida found its quarterback of the future. In Saturday night's season opener, the Bulls found their running back.

Heralded freshman Mike Ford, who entered the game third on the depth chart, rushed for 83 yards on only six carries and scored three touchdowns as the Bulls did enough to put away pesky Division I-AA Elon 28-13 Saturday night.

Ford only touched the ball seven times, but scored on runs of 1 and 21 yards and a 1-yard reception. He also added a highlight reel 48-yard run down to the 2 that featured him bowling over several Elon defenders.

"It was my job to beat the secondary and safeties," Ford said. "I don't know what I was going to do until I got there. When I did, it felt like I was in a video game."

Ford hadn't played since 2005 when he was at Hargrave Military Academy.

"Oh man, it was long week for me, [it's been] a year and a half," Ford said. "But I came out and worked hard."

While Ford established himself at running back, the Bulls got their usual solid effort from the defense.

Sophomore defensive end George Selvie had a school-record tying four sacks and the Bulls held Elon to 33 yards rushing on 30 attempts.

Perhaps inspired by fellow Southern Conference member Appalachian State's stunning upset of Michigan earlier in the day, the Phoenix (0-1) put up more of a fight than USF (1-0) expected - or hoped - before an announced crowd of 33,639 at Raymond James Stadium.

USF led 7-3 at halftime, but easily could have been behind. Elon missed a 45-yard field goal and turned the ball over twice inside USF's 15.

"Our defense did some good things," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "Their backs were against the wall.

Junior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, in his first game since transferring to Iowa State, led USF with 9 1/2 tackles.

Quarterback Matt Grothe threw for 238 yards and two TDs - a 1-yarder to Ford and 24 yards to Amarri Jackson.

Grothe said it was hard not to look ahead to next week's game with Auburn.

"I don't think we ran everything in our offense," Grothe said. "We definitely need to get better, but I think we played better than what it showed on the scoreboard.

"We won and we're moving on. We've got Auburn next and it was hard for everybody not to look ahead."

Leavitt, who had a welt above his right eye from administering his trademark head butts to helmeted players at halftime, sounded like a coach that had lost afterwards and not the winning coach.

"If we play like that [against Auburn], you know what it will be like," Leavitt said. "But we won't [play that way]. We're going to change. We're changing tonight. I'm worn out."

Leavitt was upset about USF's penalties (nine for 89), mental mistakes and turnovers (two fumbles). Punter Justin Teachey also bobbled a snap and couldn't get off a punt, Jackson fumbled a punt return and lost another fumble that was nullified by a penalty and the Phoenix recovered a late onside kick - even though USF had 12 players on the field.

"We won the game, but it turned out to be something ugly." Leavitt said. "We were undisciplined."

While the offense sputtered most of the night, the defense carried the Bulls, who did enough to avoid being another Southern Conference upset victim.

"I watched the Michigan game and I thought 'Elon is going to think they can do the same thing,'" Selvie said.

The opener got off to an inauspicious start for USF when the pregame fireworks inadvertently shot off into the face of Joseph Castonguay. They were supposed to ignite when the team ran on the field.

"Last year we won a game against McNeese State that was pretty similar," Leavitt said. "It was ugly. We have work to do."

Ford's 1-yard TD reception from Grothe gave USF a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter, but Elon answered with a 37-yard field goal.

After a three-and-out by USF, Elon dinked and dunked its way to the Bulls 16. Free safety Nate Allen ended the Phoenix's threat when he intercepted Scott Riddle at 4.

Riddle, a freshman playing in his first collegiate game, was 33 of 54 for 210 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Reporter Brett McMurphy can be reached at (813) 259-7928 or bmcmurphy@tampatrib.com.


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I think the score for this game could have easily been 49-13 if we handed off to mike ford 10 more times.

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Ford was the only bright spot.  I would have enjoyed seeing two or three back sets with Ford, Taylor, and Sammuels running.  That would have been interesting.  Passing game was unbelievable.  Balls would hit them in the hands and they would not catch them.

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