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Bulls try to look forward

Coach Jim Leavitt says USF can overcome rout.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 20, 2002

TAMPA -- For South Florida, it has been a week of daily affirmations.

USF is coming off the worst loss in school history, 42-3 at Arkansas, and plays at No. 2-ranked Oklahoma next weekend.

Let the healing begin. Pronto.

"One thing you do is forget what lies behind and reach forward for what lies ahead, right? We don't want to dwell in the past," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "We lost a football game, we didn't play very well. That's all we want to make of it. We don't want to make any more of it than that."

The Bulls know two things: They are not as good as they seemed after the 37-6 dismantling of Northern Illinois on Sept. 7, and they can't possibly be as bad as the rout in Little Rock.

"After we beat Northern Illinois, a lot of people were ready to tell me that we were a very, very powerful program. I said wait a minute, we're 2-0, that's all we are," Leavitt said. "Now, after we get beat by Arkansas, probably a lot of people are going to say that we're worthless. And I say just wait, we're 2-1, let's just wait and see how this thing plays out."

Leavitt invented a word conjugation and rolled out some simple truths while framing a perspective the Bulls can rebuild on.

"We don't want to catastrophize things," Leavitt said. "We've got our health, we're thankful for that, that's a positive. Our guys are going to school today, lifting weights, going to practice. It's all positive."

After such a meltdown, it is easy to forget USF has won 15 straight home games by an average score of 41-12. The Bulls owned the nation's second-longest winning streak, eight games, heading into Arkansas, and earlier in the day, the Northern Illinois team USF throttled nearly won at nationally ranked Wisconsin.

"The fact that we've won our last eight out of nine, we're still okay, we're still doing some good things," Leavitt said. "I'm disappointed in the loss, I am, but we've been here before and we'll probably be here again somewhere down the road. The key is how you deal with adversity."

Usually teams look forward to recuperating physically during an off week. USF is virtually injury-free; it's the mental wounds that need salving.

"The team is pretty down, but everyone is ready to put that game behind us," senior punter Devin Sanderson said. "We're ready to get back to work, to prepare for Oklahoma."

The Bulls will be making their first national television appearance (7 p.m. Sept. 28 on TBS).

"If (we) don't play well, it'll do (two) things," Leavitt said. "It'll tell (us) how far (we) need to go, obviously, and the perception of South Florida won't be too strong at this point.

"Recruits will probably all want to come, because they'll want to help. But I think the (national) exposure, any way you look at it, is pretty good."

A spate of questionable penalties contributed mightily to USF's early deficit at Arkansas. While Leavitt said he thought several of the Bulls' seven first-quarter infractions were marginal calls, one stuck in his craw.

With the score 14-0 and USF near midfield, Marquel Blackwell looked to throw a wide receiver screen to DeAndrew Rubin, except Rubin had been tossed to the ground. Blackwell double-clutched, then tried to rifle the ball out of bounds. It was deflected and picked off.

"DeAndrew Rubin was absolutely two-handed tackled at the point of attack," Leavitt said. "It was horrible. We'll send the film in. It won't do any good; we'll send it anyway. I've never seen anything that bad.

"We could have had all that officiating go our way and still get beat. That night, we were not going to win. You can go on making excuses, but they're better than us. We'll take it and move on and see if we can get better.

"This is a process, a journey, and it's going to be one that's going to take time. Everybody wants things right now in this world. ... Well that's just not the way it works.

"But I think that our team will be resilient. I certainly believe in this football team. I think they'll battle, and I think they'll fight. And we're fixing to find out."

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