TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Miami’s first road test was a breeze.
The 15th-ranked Hurricanes scored on their first three possessions and dominated defensively during a 49-21 rout of winless South Florida on Saturday.
Miami (4-0) has yet to trail this season, but coach Al Golden felt USF was much better than its record and posed a different challenge for his team in its final tuneup for Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Stephen Morris and a talented group of speedy receivers set the tone for an impressive offensive display, and the Hurricanes played stifling defense before giving up a long touchdown drive at the end.
“I think we were ready to go,” Golden said.
“Our whole game plan was to continue to push the ball and continue to play smart,” Morris added. “Offensively, the receivers had a great game.”
Morris threw for two touchdowns before limping off with an ankle injury that’s not considered serious, and Duke Johnson scored a TD in his eighth consecutive game for the Hurricanes, who are off to their best start since 2004, when they opened the season with six straight wins.
At 0-4 under first-year coach Willie Taggart, USF is off to the worst start in school history and has dropped 13 of 14 dating to last season.
“That’s a really good football team, and we’ve got to play so much better in order to have a chance … because of where we’re at right now,” Taggart said. “Until we get to where we want to be, we’ve got to play perfect football in order to compete with a team like Miami.”
Morris threw for 222 yards, moving ahead of Steve Walsh and into ninth place on Miami’s career passing list. He tossed TD passes of 19 yards to Herb Waters and 34 yards to Stacy Coley as the Hurricanes scored on their first three possessions and amassed 251 yards of offense in the first quarter alone.
Johnson had a 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and finished with 84 yards on 14 carries. Miami’s defense also scored, with Shayon Green sacking Penn State transfer Steven Bench and forcing a fumble that Jimmy Gaines recovered for the sixth defensive TD scored against USF in four games.
USF’s offense has six touchdowns all season, including Marcus Shaw’s 3-yard run that made it 7-7. Shaw wound up with 127 yards rushing, but the Bulls’ offense didn’t come close to scoring again until Bench — their third starting quarterback in four weeks — threw a 16-yard TD pass to Derrick Hopkins with two seconds remaining.
Bench was 13-of-27 passing for 189 yards. He was intercepted once and lost two fumbles.
“Like I told our guys, we’re 0-4, no one is going to say anything positive,” Taggart said. “It’s the reality of it, so let’s not get caught up in that. Keep working, and let’s find a way to make plays.”
Morris was limited in practice early in the week after being hit on his right ankle during Miami’s 77-7 rout of Savannah State. He limped off the field early in the second quarter with the Hurricanes up 21-7 and did not return, spending the rest of the afternoon watching backups Ryan Williams and Gray Crow finish up.
“We protected him well. He started to get hit a little bit there, the last touchdown, and it was time to get him out and move on to Ryan,” Golden said. “He kept saying that he was good, but we had enough lead, I thought, that we could move on.”
Williams completed 8 of 14 passes for 153 yards and one TD before being replaced by redshirt freshman Crow, who threw a fourth-quarter interception that defensive end Julius Forte returned 11 yards for USF’s second touchdown.
Despite USF’s struggles, Golden entered the game wary of the Bulls coming off a bye week that gave them extra time to prepare for the Hurricanes. And it was the first road game of the season for Miami.
Golden felt the first 15 plays of the game would be critical because USF figured to make some adjustments during the Bulls’ open date, and it was incumbent upon Miami to respond to those changes quickly.
And that’s exactly what Morris did against a defense that had been solid in USF’s first three games. Miami moved 77 yards in seven plays to score after the opening kickoff and drove 91 and 83 yards to add TDs on their next two possessions after having two long kick returns wiped out by penalties.
“Stephen did an unbelievable job for the lack of practice that he had,” Golden said. “I thought he was efficient. I thought we ran the ball really well. I thought we called a good game early on, and I thought the (USF) defense settled down after that first 15, which I was concerned about coming off the bye week.”
Miami gained 251 yards on its first three possessions, more than USF had ever allowed in a single quarter. It was 35-7 at the half — and could have been worse.
The Hurricanes lost two fumbles inside the Bulls 5 and also missed a 23-yard field goal.
As he’s been all season, Shaw was the bright spot for USF. He had his third 100-yard game for the Bulls, who sputtered offensively after Shaw’s 44-yard run to the Miami 14 set up his second TD of the season.