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June 9, 2010It's what Bulls fans had expected out of Mike Ford ever since he stepped foot on campus.
Ford, a highly touted running back upon signing with South Florida, broke out to the tune of 207 yards on the ground as the Bulls became International Bowl champions in the season finale defeating Northern Illinois 27-3.
Of Ford's 207 rushing yards, a career-high, 189 yards came after the halftime whistle.
"I thought it was extraordinary the way our team changed at halftime, especially our offense," South Florida coach Jim Leavitt told the Associated Press. "I told our offensive coaches that we really need to put the ball into Mike Ford's hands, similar to what we did (in a Dec. 5 loss at) UConn, and let's see if we can take a little pressure off B.J. and then work the play-action game off Mike's runs."
The Bulls did just as their head coach said.
The ground game enabled quarterback B.J. Daniels to find wide receiver A.J. Love on two occasions for touchdowns. The scores came via a 46-yard pass in the third quarter and a 7-yard throw and catch at the beginning of the final 15 minutes of play.
Daniels finished the bowl victory completing 14 of 22 pass attempts for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, Daniels threw no interceptions.
Wide receiver Carlton Mitchell in what would turn out to be his final game in a USF uniform, led all wide receivers with six catches for 94 yards including a 31-yard reception.
The speed of the South Florida defense stymied the Huskies offense. The MAC representatives managed only 238 total yards of offense.
"They were tremendously fast," said NIU running back Chad Spann, "We've been trying to preach these last couple of weeks that we've got to get everything north and south because they're very fast east and west. As plays broke down, you'd think the bounce (to the outside) would be there but there'd be a guy right there to swallow me up."
Linebacker Kion Wilson led the Bulls in tackles with seven, but it was Jerome Murphy who came up with the biggest plays.
Murphy registered six tackles and two pass breakups. However, it was his fumble recovery and 13-yard return along with a 23-yard interception that made the most noise.
Jason Pierre-Paul finished off his USF career with a sack to go along with two tackles for loss.
South Florida had finished their 2009 rollercoaster ride on a good note. The program improved to 3-2 in its limited history in bowl games - part of a fifth consecutive bowl appearance.
USF could now look to the future with optimism not knowing exactly what was about to happen to the only coach they had ever known.
"It's very exciting to see where we are right now and see where we could possibly be," said B.J. Daniels. ''We have a lot of young talent and a lot of guys coming back."
Turbulent times were on the horizon, but for now, the Bulls were winners - and that is all that mattered.
Talk about it on El Toro Loco or The Bullpen.