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As ugly as can be for Bulls vs. Hogs

ARKANSAS 42, USF 3: The Bulls trail 35-0 at halftime and never come close to challenging their SEC opponent.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002

[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Santiago Gramatica reacts as the score gets out of hand.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Like an avalanche or a car crash, it happened with frightening velocity.

The game started, the frenzied, overflow crowd got revved up, Arkansas made a few big plays, and ...

Then it was halftime, the Razorbacks led South Florida 35-0, and the score indicated every bit of how each team played.

Arkansas destroyed USF 42-3 on Saturday. The defense was shredded, the offense was manhandled and the special teams rendered irrelevant.

"We got our a-- kicked," USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell said. "We just got beat. They handed it to us."

It was total humiliation during the biggest challenge for the 6-year-old program and a dismal end to the Bulls' eight-game winning streak, which had been second-longest in the nation.

"When we started this program I said we were going to run into some minefields along the way. We ran into one tonight," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "We didn't give Arkansas much of a game. They beat the dog out of us."

Arkansas' formidable reputation at War Memorial was on display. The Hogs are 12-0 in Little Rock, where they play half of their games, in coach Houston Nutt's four-plus years.

They set an opposing-team record with 34 first downs while totaling 547 yards, 307 on the ground. USF (2-1) had 150 yards and 10 first downs.

On defense, Arkansas (2-0) looked like it knew what play was coming. On offense, the Hogs did whatever they wanted.

"They ran the ball right up our butt," Leavitt said. "They beat our behinds. But I was proud of our team, they kept playing hard."

Last week, USF maintained its no-huddle offense, which relies almost entirely on hand signals, would be unhindered by the 55,817 screaming fans. (The Bulls practiced with loudspeakers mimicking the crowd anyway.) But USF, which scored 88 points in its first two games, didn't mount a drive until late in the fourth quarter. A 32-yard field goal by Santiago Gramatica with 38 seconds to go averted the school's first shutout.

"We felt they hadn't played anyone of our caliber," Arkansas running back Fred Talley said. "There's a lot of tradition here. The crowd here brings out the best in us."

As dominant as the Bulls have been at home, where they've won 15 straight, they've been flummoxed nearly as often on the road. USF is 3-11 away from Raymond James Stadium since the start of the 1999 season. It's the second straight terrible road result for USF. On Oct. 6 the Bulls lost 52-21 at Utah.

The Hogs delighted the crowd by popping off USF helmets on high speed collisions, busting long runs and inciting chant after chant of Woooooooooo Pig! Sooie! "I thought it was fun. I thought it was really a nice atmosphere for college football," Leavitt said. "I don't think the crowd was a problem. (Arkansas) was a problem. They played well."

Arkansas established command so soon, backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson opened the second quarter. He promptly marched Arkansas 94 yards for a 28-0 lead.

The Razorbacks flaunted their explosive arsenal. Starting tailback Cedric Cobbs ran for 56 yards and was his team's fourth leading rusher. Backup De'Arrius Howard had a 26-yard gain on his first carry and scored on a short run just before halftime to make it 35-0.

"We stunk up the field in the first half," USF defensive tackle Greg Walls said. "We just couldn't get off the field."

A stretch in the middle of the first quarter epitomized the Bulls woes. After Arkansas scored for a 7-0 lead, the Hogs kicked off, and (deep breath, brace yourself) USF:

-- Touched the kickoff as it was on its way out of bounds, resulting in a spot at the 10.

-- Incurred a "snap infraction" before the first-down play, backing the Bulls up to the 5.

-- Dropped the next two snaps and was flagged for a personal foul.

-- Incurred an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a short completion on third down.

-- Punted from the back of the end zone; it was returned to the USF 28.

Three play later, it was 14-0 Arkansas.

Two plays after that, Blackwell (12-for-33, 80 yards, 1 interception), who was under duress all night and had the lowest completion percentage of his storied career, forced a screen pass. It was deflected by Ken Hamlin and intercepted by Tony Bua.

You get the picture. It was a horror flick on fast forward.

Even when the Bulls did things right, it went wrong. Kawika Mitchell ran a fake punt 69 yards inside the Arkansas 10, giving USF a chance to get within 21-7, but it was nullified because the Bulls were called for not having enough players on the line of scrimmage.

USF started well, forcing a punt on the opening series. Then things collapsed.

With the Arkansas defenders urging them, the fans red-lined the decibel meter and the Bulls balked: two incompletions and a drop by Hugh Smith resulted in a three-and-out.

Arkansas answered with a 69-yard scoring for the 7-0 lead and the rout was on.

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