for this game

Williams, South Florida run over Florida Atlantic

Oct 7, 2007 - 2:40 AM FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (Ticker) -- Benjamin Williams and South Florida narrowly avoided a classic trap.

Williams scored four touchdowns and quarterback Matt Grothe ran for another score as the sixth-ranked Bulls held off energized Florida Atlantic with a 35-23 victory at Lockhart Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Upstart South Florida (5-0) rose to the top of the Big East Conference standings along with idle Connecticut (5-0). The two teams both are surprises atop the conference.

"I'm really proud of our team, I thought they did a great job of handling adversity in this environment," South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said.

With preseason favorites Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers all picking up early losses, the door opened for the Bulls' meteoric rise in the polls and on the national scene.

South Florida was unranked as recently as three weeks ago before entering the media poll for the first time in program history at No. 23 on September 16 - eight days after they upset Auburn on the road, 26-23.

The Bulls moved up to No. 18 following its 37-10 win over North Carolina two weeks ago, then surged 12 spots following last Friday's 21-13 triumph over the then-No. 5 Mountaineers.

But in this one, the Owls would not go down easy, pulling within 28-23 on Rusty Smith's 47-yard TD pass to DiIvory Edgecomb with 6:42 remaining in the game. A two-point conversion attempt failed, and Florida Atlantic would get no closer.

"We fought a very good football team, (the Owls) fought their tails off," Leavitt said.

The defense held the rest of the way for South Florida, which may have been looking ahead to the tough part of its schedule. Next week, the Bulls start a four-game stretch against in-state rival Central Florida, the 21st-ranked Scarlet Knights, the Huskies and 20th-ranked Cincinnati.

But Leavitt did not experience a letdown.

"I worried about this game the most from the beginning of the year," he said. "I thought it would be the toughest challenge in terms of emotion."

Williams started the scoring with a five-yard TD run with 13 seconds left in the first quarter. The junior running back also opened the third quarter with a nine-yard plunge to snap a 7-7 tie.

A 5-7, 190-pound sparkplug, Williams added two more scores in the final period - spinning, weaving and hurdling his way to a 54-yard score to make it 28-17 with 9:54 left. He finished with 185 yards on 25 carries.

Smith was 23-of-47 for 257 yards and three touchdowns with one interception for Florida Atlantic (3-3).