Earlier this week University of South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe said the Bulls needed to make a statement against N.C. State. Senior center Jake Griffin added that the Bulls needed to show their A game.
The Bulls did both - convincingly.
Scoring on five of its six first-half possessions, the Bulls coasted to a 41-10 victory against the Wolfpack.
Forget their A game, the Bulls brought their A-plus game in a nearly flawless first half and the Bulls led 31-10.
The Bulls (5-0), who had allowed late scores in each of their last three wins, finished strong this time. And with four Top 10 teams losing this weekend, the 13th-ranked Bulls could crack the Top 10 when The Associated Press poll is released today.
"It was nice, but we haven't even started yet," Griffin said.
It was the second-most points scored against N.C. State at home under Coach Tom O'Brien.
Grothe started the game with 11 consecutive completions (despite what he thinks, maybe he does have a chance for the Heisman after all) and finished 20-of-29 for 259 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 68 yards.
Mike Ford (64 yards rushing), Moise Plancher (40 yards) and Jamar Taylor each had short scoring runs, and Maikon Bonani hit three of four field goals.
The offense, criticized by USF coach Jim Leavitt in last week's lackluster win at FIU, rolled up 514 yards, including 239 on the ground, on a rainy night before 57,583 at Carter-Finley Stadium.
The defense, which played without three starters, including All-America defensive end George Selvie, who sat out with an ankle injury, held the Wolfpack (2-3) to 265 yards and 10 points.
Not a bad performance for a defense that O'Brien questioned last week when he asked why opposing coaches would seek input from USF's staff on stopping the spread offense after the Bulls' Sun Bowl loss.
USF defensive coordinator Wally Burnham got the last laugh Saturday night.
"O'Brien and I had a discussion before the game," Burnham said. "This was a statement for our defense. I was worried all week because of our depth.
"It the first time we've had a complete game."
Midway through the second quarter, Burnham's defense had outscored O'Brien's offense, 4-3, on a pair of safeties.
Sophomore Craig Marshall, who made his first career start in place of Selvie, had his first career interception and also a sack.
"That was a neat little deal," Leavitt said.
The Bulls' offense, which sputtered last week at Florida International, was virtually unstoppable against the Wolfpack. USF rolled up 354 first-half yards, a week after gaining only 320 the entire game at FIU. The Wolfpack had minus-33 yards rushing at the half.
"I was pretty disappointed how we played last week," Leavitt said.
Grothe responded with one of the best first-half performances of his career. He completed 15 of 18 passes for 208 yards and one TD and carried six times for 55 yards.
The Bulls won't have long to celebrate. Up next is Thursday's Big East opener at home against Pittsburgh.
"This win was huge," Grothe said. "We know we have Pittsburgh Thursday, so we have to play lights-out. It's going to be a big game, and I think we'll be ready for it."
USF scored touchdowns on the game's first three possessions - Taylor's 1-yard run, Carlton Mitchell's 9-yard pass from Grothe and Ford's 1-yard run - for a 21-3 lead three minutes into the second quarter.
Then the Bulls' defense got in the act, scoring safeties on consecutive N.C. State possessions, making it 25-3.
"It felt good to beat an ACC team," USF senior strong safety Danny Verpaele said.
After Bonani's 20-yard field goal gave USF a 28-3 cushion with 2:31 remaining, the Wolfpack finally found the end zone only 1:06 before halftime on Andre Brown's 1-yard run.
However, the Bulls drove 49 yards in the final 58 seconds of the half. Grothe's 32-yard pass to Marcus Edwards set up Bonani's 32-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.