By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 9, 2002
TAMPA -- Quick, knock on wood: Things look perfect for South Florida heading into the biggest two games in the program's history.
The Bulls are playing well, there are no significant injuries, they are establishing depth and they believe they can play with anyone.
We'll see. USF (2-0) is at Arkansas on Saturday and then has a bye week before traveling to No. 2 Oklahoma.
Arkansas, which played in the Cotton Bowl last season, looked superb in its opener, ripping a good Boise State team (8-4 last season) 41-14. For USF, it will be arguably the biggest game in the program's history -- until Oklahoma -- and the Bulls hardly could feel better about themselves after whacking Northern Illinois 37-6 Saturday.
"Yes sir, it does," USF defensive tackle Tavares Jurineack said when asked if Saturday's win gives him confidence heading into Arkansas.
ON THE MEND: USF is virtually 100 percent healthy. Receiver Huey Whittaker (knee), who set a school record with 52 catches last season, returned to the lineup and had one catch for 4 yards. The team's top cornerback, Maurice Tucker (ankle), also returned.
The only injury was linebacker Jason Allen, who hurt his medial collateral ligament. Allen is expected to play against Arkansas.
NEW DEFENDERS: The defense lost the shutout on a 24-yard touchdown pass on the final play, but it was outstanding and two freshmen earned significant time. Defensive end Terrence Royal started ahead of Shurron Pierson and had a tackle. Reserve linebacker Devon Davis, from Miramar High, had six tackles, four for loss, and helped cause the first safety in school history when he blitzed and forced an intentional grounding call in the end zone.
THE RETURN MAN: DeAndrew Rubin is on pace to get in the NCAA record book. The senior, who had three punt returns for 95 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown, is averaging 18.9 yards a punt return for his career (41 for 773 yards). He is tied for third all-time in Division I-A with Eddie Macon of Pacific (1949-51), and is one spot ahead of Jackie Robinson (yes, that Jackie Robinson) of UCLA (1939-40), who averaged 18.8.
Oklahoma's Jack Mitchell is No. 1 with a 23.6 average (minimum 30 returns) from 1946-48. Rubin has four punt return touchdowns, one as a sophomore, one as a junior and two this season.
BY AIR OR BY GROUND: Quarterback Marquel Blackwell's team-high 75 rushing yards put him over 1,000 for his career, a significant accomplishment considering sack yardage counts as negative rushing yards in college.
CAN'T RUN: Despite Blackwell's numbers, USF's rushing attack remains a primary concern. The Bulls' top five running backs have a combined 161 yards on 43 carries (3.7 average) through two games.
CATCHING UP: Receiver Hugh Smith had 10 catches. He has 18 through the first two games.