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Bulls strike often

USF 51, FAU 10: A lightning delay after the first quarter was the Owls' only chance at keeping this opener close.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 30, 2002

TAMPA -- With the first quarter coming to a close Thursday night and South Florida sticking it to Florida Atlantic, lightning halted play for 45 minutes.

[Times photo: Bill Serne]
USF defensive backs D'juan Brown, left, and John Miller break up a pass to FAU's Brittney Tellis.
Mother nature, with an assist from some foolish Bulls penalties, only delayed the inevitable. USF's football program is four years older than FAU's and the Bulls played the role of a bullying big brother, methodically mauling the Owls 51-10.

Nonetheless, in a sign of how far USF has come, to a man no one was impressed by the performance.

"We just kind of moved through the game," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "We just kind of played the game. I don't think we attacked it."

USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell was sharp in sometimes gusty conditions, completing 27-of-39 for 263 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in three quarters of work as the sixth-year Bulls easily dispatched the second-year, Division I-AA Owls in the season opener for both.

"I thought Marquel did a great job," Leavitt said. "The young offensive line (no juniors or seniors) did some pretty good things, too."

The defense was USF's more impressive unit as the Bulls held a 368-142 advantage in total yards. The veteran front seven swarmed FAU and harried its quarterback, Jared Allen, knocking the Owls backward for minus-36 yards rushing.

"They weren't ready for our rush defense," defensive tackle Tavares Jurineack said. "We wanted to get the goose egg, but unfortunately we let down a little."

Florida Atlantic, 4-6 last season, is using USF as a blueprint. The Owls, under famed coach Howard Schnellenberger, are hoping to mimic the Bulls' rapid ascension to I-A and their success: USF was 8-3 last season in its I-A debut.

"We learned a little bit of a lesson here," Schnellenberger said. "One of those kind of lessons you need to learn if you're going to go from a teenager to a young adult."

It was 10-0 when the lightning delay struck, and though it temporarily took the charge out of USF, Brian Fisher's 66-yard punt return midway through the second quarter, keyed by a devastating block from Sidney Simpson, got the Bulls back on track.

Not to be outdone, regular punt returner DeAndrew Rubin, who played sparingly early because of a strained hamstring, returned a fourth-quarter punt 56 yards for a touchdown.

"The biggest thing that hits me (about the game) is the special teams," Leavitt said.

Punts were FAU's downfall. At the start of the game, USF defensive end Shurron Pierson gave the Bulls prime field position for their first possession, blocking a punt attempt and recovering at the FAU 30.

The Bulls capitalized quickly. With Blackwell operating the no-huddle, shotgun attack, USF needed six plays to make it 7-0, with Clenton Crossley crashing up the middle from the 4 on a shovel pass from Blackwell, who was 3-for-3 on the drive.

USF went 63 yards on its next drive, culminating in a 34-yard Santiago Gramatica field goal and a 10-0 lead.

Then came the 45-minute interruption. A 15-yard chop block penalty when play resumed forced a USF punt. The snap sailed over punter Devin Sanderson and FAU recovered at the 5.

The USF defense rose to the occasion. Allen (10-for-20 for 163 yards) threw incomplete twice, then was sacked by blitzing middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell. Mark Myers' 38-yard field goal made it 10-3.

Fisher's punt return led to a 1-yard scoring run by Crossley for a 17-3 lead with 9:09 to go in the half. The Bulls pushed it to 20-3 with a crisp two-minute drill before intermission.

An 11-yard sideline pass from Blackwell to Elgin Hicks stopped the clock with a few seconds remaining, and Gramatica booted a careerlong 35-yarder as time expired.

Sloppiness hindered the Bulls from start to finish. They accrued 105 yards in penalties and incurred multiple personal fouls.

FAU threatened to get back in the game early in the third quarter, capitalizing on a USF personal foul penalty and driving to the Bulls 11. But on second and 8 Allen was sacked by Jurineack, and USF's Terrence Royal recovered.

The Bulls dashed any upset hopes by marching down for a touchdown and a 27-3 lead. A Blackwell-to-Fisher 27-yard strike salvaged a first down on third and 25, and the same combination finished it off.

Fisher caught a short pass over the middle, turned around and lunged into the end zone for the 8-yard score.

After FAU trimmed it to 27-10, USF receiver Hugh Smith, who had a team-high eight catches for 73 yards, took a handoff on a reverse from Vince Brewer, cut off of blocks from Blackwell and tackle Levi Newton, and scored from 8 yards.

Rubin's punt return at the start of the fourth quarter provided the game's final highlight and made it 44-10. Backup quarterbacks David Mullins and Ronnie Banks replaced Blackwell for the fourth quarter and the Bulls added a late TD to complete the scoring.

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