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Scoreboard lights up for Bulls

USF 56, CH. SOUTHERN 6: TDs on a fake punt and a pickoff return spark rout.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2002


USF 56, CH. SOUTHERN 6: TDs on a fake punt and a pickoff return spark rout.

TAMPA -- South Florida free safety J.R. Reed had a metamorphosis from last season to this season. The junior transformed from big-play maker into steady and reliable defensive backbone.

The Reed of last year was reliable, too, but he also made interceptions (5), forced fumbles (2), recovered fumbles (3), scored a touchdown and blocked a kick.

The Reed of this year made lots of tackles and no mistakes ... and yearned for the big plays of 2001.

Saturday, like virtually all of the Bulls, he got what he wanted. In the second quarter, Reed stepped into the left flat and plucked Charleston Southern quarterback John Muller's pass as if it were intended for him. He dashed up the sideline for the 13-yard score, and USF was on its way to an easy 56-6 win over the Division I-AA Buccaneers before 23,144 at Raymond James Stadium.

"The strong safety (Kevin Verpaele) has been making the big plays this year, but on that one, because of the formation, we were inverted," Reed said. "I sat on the curl, read the quarterback's eyes and broke on it."

USF (6-2) seemed to read every play before it happened. Against overmatched CSU (4-5), even with reserves playing most of the second half, the Bulls accumulated staggering statistical advantages.

Total yards, 525-76. First downs, 25-4 (least ever by a USF opponent). And this being the 2002 Bulls, one of the nation's most penalized teams, penalty yards, 145-80.

"The good thing about this game is we got a chance to play a lot of different people," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "You just move through a game like this and move on to the next one.

"The games like this, sometimes you get sloppy. Coming off a bye, we weren't as sharp as we wanted to be. But to hold a team to 76 yards is pretty good."

The Bulls extended their home win streak to 17 games, tied with Texas for second-best in the nation behind Miami's 20. USF has won four straight overall since losing Sept.28 at Oklahoma, 31-14.

Many Bulls seized the opportunity to pad their statistics. Reed, the junior from Hillsborough High, got his second interception of the season -- first since the opener -- and relieved a lot of anxiety. During the week, he lamented that teams weren't challenging the Bulls deep. He had 11 passes defensed in 2001 but one through seven games in 2002.

"J.R.'s a great player, and I like to give him a hard time about saying plays haven't been coming to him," senior middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell said. "Sometimes you have to go and make the plays, they don't come to you.

"It's about time, basically."

CSU threw long and paid. Cornerback Maurice Tucker swiped the game's first pass on a deep pattern, his first interception as a Bull. Reed and Tucker combined to knock away another deep ball, then Reed got his chance with 6:37 left in the first half and pounced, making it 28-0.

"That's the one thing the secondary hasn't been doing much of, getting turnovers," said Tucker, a senior who transferred from Indiana before his junior year. "(Defensive coordinator Rich) Kravitz said he wanted five interceptions today. The starters got three (Ron Hemingway had the other), so we did okay."

Tucker's sterling over-the-shoulder grab helped set the tone. USF quickly marched to a 7-0 lead with 2:19 elapsed on a 13-yard touchdown from Marquel Blackwell to Hugh Smith, who had eight catches for 100 yards.

Blackwell extended his streak without an interception to 123 passes, breaking the school mark of 121 set by Chad Barnhardt in 1997-98. Blackwell finished 14-of-31 for 198 yards with a touchdown before being replaced by Ronnie Banks (4 of 8, 60 yards) midway through the third quarter.

The Bulls dropped into punt formation on their second series and snapped it to the upback, Mitchell, who sprinted up the middle 56 yards to make it 14-0. Vince Brewer's first rushing touchdown of the season, a 2-yarder, made it 21-0 early in the second quarter, and Reed's interception return gave the Bulls a 28-0 lead at halftime.

CSU had one highlight in the second half as Mike Washington scored on a 98-yard kickoff return, the longest allowed by the Bulls. The Buccaneers' glee was short-lived. USF's DeAndrew Rubin returned the subsequent kickoff for a touchdown to make it 50-6. It was USF's second kickoff return score, both against CSU. In 1997, Charlie Jackson did it in a 24-6 Bulls win.

Blackwell also had an 8-yard rushing touchdown for USF, Quinton Callum scored on a 5-yard run and Santiago Gramatica had field goals of 26, 32 and 36 yards.

Saturday, USF hosts Memphis in the second of three straight home games. The Bulls lost 17-9 at Memphis last season.

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