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A stingy defense offers plenty to smile about

The Bulls hold Florida Atlantic to minus-36 yards rushing and still are

By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 30, 2002

TAMPA -- Put aside the praise for Marquel Blackwell, for just a moment. The electrifying quarterback might be the face of South Florida football these days, but teammates on the other side of the ball will have just as big a say in the Bulls' fate.

Plenty is expected from a unit that returns eight starters from last season, including six among the front seven, and for one night it delivered in a 51-10 win over Florida Atlantic.

The Bulls held FAU to 142 total yards, including minus-36 rushing yards.

"Minus-36 yards, you can't really complain about that. That's not bad," said South Florida coach Jim Leavitt with the smallest grin.

There was plenty to smile about, especially in the first half when the Bulls held FAU to 52 yards while taking a 20-3 halftime lead.

It was a dominating effort, even if some of the players could not let go of those three points, and later a meaningless Owls touchdown.

"We want to hold them to a goose egg," said defensive tackle Tavares Jurineack, who recovered a fumble. "We didn't play as well as we should have, they actually scored on us."

The Owls moved the ball early, gaining 34 yards on each of their first two drives, but USF surrendered little else the rest of the night, save for an 80-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter.

The one time the Owls had an opportunity to reach the end zone while the game was still tight, USF handed it to them on a platter with a high punt snap.

But the defense refused to yield. FAU had first andgoal at the 5, threw up two incomplete passes and was further insulted when Kawika Mitchell met FAU quarterback Jared Allen in the backfield for a huge sack, one of seven on the night for the Bulls.

FAU lost 16 yards on the play and had to settle for a 38-yard field goal.

In the first quarter, more pressure led to a USF interception. Taking over at his team's 25-yard line after USF went up 10-0, Allen completed one pass for 14 yards, then was flushed left out of the pocket and threw one away on a first and 10 from his 42.

On second down he scrambled to the right and threw up an ill-advised deep ball, picked off on a nifty dive by J.R. Reed at the USF 19.

Reed, a junior free safety who starred at Hillsborough High, was named the Bulls defensive playmaker of the year in 2001. He and Maurice Tucker, who did not playbecause of sore ankle,are the returning starters in the secondary.

Even more experience is on the defensive line, where Chris Daley, Jurineack, Greg Walls and Shurron Pierson return. Two of the three linebackers, Maurice Jones and Mitchell, return from the unit that ranked 20th in the nation last season against the rush and 38th in total defense.

"We tell the younger guys to stand on our backs and we'll carry them," Jurineack said. "We want to have big nights every night."

Nights that stand out even while Blackwell does his thing.

"We hope the offense scores, but we don't want to have to depend on it," Reed said.

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