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Bulls content with modest road streak

By defeating East Carolina, the Bulls have two straight wins away from home, improving to 8-17.

By KEVIN BRAFFORD

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2002


By defeating East Carolina, the Bulls have two straight wins away from home, improving to 8-17.

GREENVILLE, N.C. -- Road trips often are fun when you are a college student. The exception has been if you are a South Florida player.

That may be be changing. The Bulls accomplished a first in their six-year history Saturday, as USF's 46-30 win over East Carolina backed up a 24-17 win at North Texas two weeks ago, giving the Bulls a winning streak away from Raymond James Stadium.

Granted, it is modest, but senior defensive tackle Greg Walls pointed out it's a start.

"It's all a part of building a program," he said. "We're out to establish not only this team but this program, and winning on the road is a part of it. Good teams win on the road, and we think we're a good team."

USF has not had as many opportunities when its jerseys have been white instead of green. The Bulls are 8-17 away from home compared with 32-5 in Tampa, albeit against teams like Slippery Rock, New Haven and Austin Peay that treat football almost like a hobby.

Understandably, the past few years' road tests often have carried the difficulty of midterms. There were trips to Kentucky, Baylor and Southern Miss in 2000. Last year, USF faced Pittsburgh, Memphis and Utah on the road. This fall, the Bulls' travels have taken them to Arkansas and Oklahoma, followed by North Texas.

Save for a 35-26 upset at Pitt, a loss that sent the eventual bowl-bound Panthers to a five-game losing streak, the results were mostly dreadful.

"It's a different atmosphere when you're on the road," senior quarterback Marquel Blackwell said. "You've got the crowd against you, and the surroundings are different.

"It's something you've got to prepare for, to be mentally focused. Today we were."

That's what made this Saturday special. Winning at North Texas was nice, but East Carolina's pedigree -- a future Conference USA rival -- authenticated last week's home win over perennial C-USA power Southern Miss.

"We knew all about East Carolina's reputation," senior linebacker Kawika Mitchell said. "We knew that they'd never lost to a team from Florida. We knew it was their homecoming game. And we knew we had to play for 60 minutes. When they got us down right away, we didn't quit. That just fired us up."

The Bulls trailed 7-0 before much of the 31,419 settled into its seats. When USF missed two tackles on East Carolina's first play, allowing running back Art Brown to turn a swing pass from Paul Troth into a 56-yard touchdown, the Bulls could have quit.

They didn't.

"That's when you find out what kind of character you have," Blackwell said. "This team's got a lot of heart, and we showed that today."

Along the way they gained respect, said senior wideout Hugh Smith.

"This was our homecoming, for South Florida going into Conference USA," Smith said. "That's what this was about."

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