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Verpaele picks his spots well

Safety's two interceptions lead solid defensive effort for Bulls.

By CHUCK COX
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 6, 2002


DENTON, Texas -- During a game in which South Florida's defense seemed to come up with all the big plays at all the right times, junior strong safety Kevin Verpaele was in the middle of things at the most crucial moments.

Verpaele, a junior from Merritt Island, picked off two of redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Smith's passes in the fourth quarter to help the Bulls to a 24-17 victory at Fouts Field.

"Our defensive line did a great job putting pressure on the quarterback, and we were just sitting in the zone," Verpaele said. "I just sat back there. The first interception he threw right at me. And I mean he had a cannon -- he just drilled it to me. I don't think there was a way I could drop it. He just drilled me in my chest."

The first came right after South Florida broke a 10-10 tie with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Marquel Blackwell to Chris Iskra.

"On the second one, Maurice Tucker made a great play and broke the ball up," Verpaele said. "It was just up there for the grabbing, and I just went up there and got it. Any time you can do something to help the defense out, it's great. I was just glad I could do anything to help the team win."

South Florida's defense allowed 198 yards of total offense, the second-fewest total for a North Texas opponent this season. Smith finished 8-for-28 for 114 yards and three interceptions.

That defensive performance came three weeks after South Florida was torched for 547 yards at Arkansas. The result was a 42-3 Razorbacks win. But the Bulls bounced back by allowing 239 yards against No. 3 Oklahoma last weekend in a 31-14 setback in Norman.

"After the Arkansas game I know we were doubting ourselves as a team -- as a defense, as an offense, as an everything," Verpaele said. "We came out with a good plan against Oklahoma, and I think we did really well against the run. We held (Quentin) Griffin to like 14 yards and worked the field really well. We built a lot of confidence in that game even though we lost. We knew coming into this game we could play.

"I think we've got a really good rush defense and our pass defense is coming along. We've got three new starters and Maurice Tucker rotates with J.R. Reed and the rest of us are coming along well."

Verpaele, who also was a standout baseball player in high school, won the starting job ahead of John Miller and showed Saturday his coaches made a good decision.

His two interceptions doubled his season total and marked the first time he had more than one in a game. Verpaele, usually more of a run-stuffing safety, said he expected to see more option from the Eagles than he did Saturday.

"(The defensive scheme) was a little bit different because we knew (Smith) could run the option," Verpaele said. "We actually thought we were going to see a lot more option, so our scheme was a little more complicated due to that fact, but we never really saw the option."

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