TAMPA, Fla. – Any lingering questions Skip Holtz had about how No. 22 South Florida might handle being ranked for the first time in nearly two years were answered on the first play of a 37-7 rout of Ball State.
Taking up where they left off in forcing five turnovers during a surprising 23-20 season-opening victory at Notre Dame, the Bulls knocked the ball loose from Ball State's Phil Dudley on the opening kickoff. Mark Joyce picked up the fumble and ran 17 yards to put USF ahead just 8 seconds into the game.
"As a coach, it's kind of nice to have that in your hip pocket," Holtz said. "This team was ready to play."
Kayvon Webster's 96-yard, first-quarter fumble return got the Bulls rolling against Notre Dame. The fastest TD in USF's relatively brief football history dropped Ball State (1-1), which did not have a turnover in its season opener against Indiana, into a hole that the overmatched Cardinals would not come close to escaping.
B.J. Daniels threw for a career-best 359 yards, including a 20-yard TD pass to Victor Marc, and Demetri Murray scored on a 2-yard run that helped USF (2-0) build a 30-0 halftime lead while outgaining the Cardinals 386 yards to 76. When the Bulls had difficulty finishing drives, Maikon Bonani delivered field goals of 31, 24 and 38 yards.
"I thought that was pretty impressive in the first half. I thought that was as complete a half as we've played since I've been here," said Holtz, in his second season at the Big East school. The Bulls, 8-5 a year ago, are ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since November 2009.
"We always talk about how it's not about who we play, but how we play," Holtz said. "That's what we can control."
Players and fans observed a moment of silence before the game for Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon, the former Oklahoma and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end who died last week after suffering a stroke. Selmon was USF's athletic director in the 1990s, when the Bulls started one of the nation's fastest-growing college football programs from scratch.
The Bulls attended a memorial service for Selmon on Friday, and the university's board of trustees has approved renaming the school's athletic facility the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center. Players will wear No. 63 decals on their helmets, as well as the initials LRS on their uniforms, for the remainder of the season.
Ball State beat Indiana 27-20 in its debut under former Lehigh and Elon coach Pete Lembo, rushing for 210 yards and getting a superb passing performance from Keith Wenning to beat an opponent from a BCS conference for just the second time.
Until USF began substituting heavily in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals had little success throwing or running the ball against a defense that allowed 508 yards to Notre Dame.
Wenning marched his team into Bulls territory just twice before Jahwan Edwards swept left end on a 13-yard, fourth-quarter scoring run that finished a nine-play, 77-yard TD drive that was aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty that wiped out an interception.
"You've got to give credit to their defense. They're a lot faster than what we're used to," Wenning said. "The hard part about not moving the ball is their up-front defensive line. They brought blitzes. They beat us up front the majority of the time. Their speed and their strength up front is what got us."
Daniels, who did not play in the fourth quarter, completed 28 of 39 passes and was intercepted once. Darrell Scott led USF with 82 yards rushing, the highlight a 1-yard, third-quarter TD run in which he hurdled a defender to get into the end zone.
Wenning was 24 of 35 for 148 yards and no interceptions, but the sophomore quarterback lost two fumbles. Edwards was Ball State's leading rusher with 41 yards on seven attempts and the Cardinals finished with 225 yards of total offense — 93 of those coming in the final quarter.
"It's kind of humbling compared to last week," Wenning said, "so we've just got to take each game one at a time and move on to the next game."