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MEMPHIS 31, USF 15: The offense sputters and can't convert three fourth downs, ending the slim hopes USF had for a bowl game.
By GREG AUMAN
Published November 28, 2004
[Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
USF's Andre Hall breaks away from Memphis defender O.C. Collins on a 5-yard carry for a first down.
TAMPA - A victory against Memphis on Saturday would have given South Florida a run at a winning season and kept alive a slim chance of playing in its first bowl game.
Instead, most of the running the Bulls did was trying to chase down Tigers star DeAngelo Williams, who rushed for a school-record 263 yards and two touchdowns as Memphis dashed the Bulls' hopes with a 31-15 victory.
"He's very good. He made us look silly," said coach Jim Leavitt, whose Bulls (4-6, 3-5 in Conference USA) will have to upset Pittsburgh next weekend to avoid finishing with the worst record in the program's eight-year history. "We couldn't stop the running back, and we knew we had to stop him in order to win the ballgame."
The combination of an early kickoff, the Bulls' subpar season and many students being home for the holiday weekend drew a Raymond James Stadium crowd of 21,392, the second smallest ever to see the Bulls at home. The only time USF played host to fewer fans was when 21,056 saw the Bulls play Liberty in October 2001.
That crowd booed the Bulls after running back Andre Hall, who topped 100 yards for the fourth straight game, was stuffed for a loss on fourth and goal at the Memphis 1 in the fourth quarter. It marked the third time Hall was stopped on fourth and 1, and typified a frustrating day that served as the Bulls' final conference game in two seasons in C-USA.
"If the offense can't get fourth and short, we don't deserve to win," said quarterback Pat Julmiste, who ran for two second-half touchdowns.
Those frustrating drive-killing stops, as well as costly dropped passes and a 24-yard missed field goal, made it hard for USF's offense to keep up with Memphis. The defense had trouble keeping up with Williams all day.
Williams had set the C-USA single-season rushing record with 1,565 yards coming in, but there were more records to be broken. No opposing back had ever rushed for as many yards against the Bulls, and his 72-yard burst in the second quarter is the longest nonscoring run allowed by USF. He came in leading the nation with 19 rushing touchdowns and added second-half scores of 51 and 44 yards.
"They ran over right guard, left guard. The toss sweep went a long ways, the sweep went a long ways," Leavitt said. "They went everywhere."
USF's defense held Memphis (8-3, 5-3) to field goals three times in the first half, and for all its struggles, the Bulls trailed just 16-7 late in the third when Julmiste scored on a 1-yard run. The Bulls defense had forced Memphis to punt on its first two second-half possessions, but Williams broke loose for a 51-yard touchdown, which gave him his fourth 200-yard game this season.
Down 23-7, the Bulls tried to answer, pulling off a fake punt for a 31-yard gain by linebacker Josh Balloon, but that long drive was scuttled at the goal line. A 9-yard pass to Hall set up fourth and goal at the 1, but Memphis dropped him for a 3-yard loss.
"We couldn't get in the end zone from the red zone. We had trouble with that all day long," said Hall, who rushed for 134 yards. "Fourth and shorts took a toll on our offense."
The Bulls missed another chance in the first quarter when tight end Mark Feldman dropped a third-down pass inside the 5, then Justin Geisler missed a 24-yard field goal wide right.
Facing the nation's third-worst passing defense, the Bulls did not attempt a pass to a wide receiver until two minutes were left in the first half. Leavitt said he "wanted balance" for his offense, but 19 of USF's first 22 plays were runs in a first half that ended with Memphis leading 16-0.
"They weren't stopping (Hall), that was being successful, so we thought we'd stay with that, run the clock to keep the ball away from their offense," Leavitt said. "Could we throw the ball more? Maybe, possibly, because we didn't win the game. We lost, and we didn't get into the end zone enough."
The Bulls, who exit their final Conference USA game with an 8-8 conference record in two seasons, will finish no better than a tie for sixth in the 11-team conference. They get a sneak preview of their future in the Big East when they host Pittsburgh at 11 a.m. Saturday in their season finale. A win there would bring the consolation of matching their inaugural season of 1997 for the team's worst record at 5-6.
"Could we have played better? I certainly hope so. I think so," Leavitt said. "I don't want to make excuses. (Injuries, youth) those are poor excuses. We're not young anymore, and everybody has the same amount of injuries we do. We've got to play better."
[Last modified November 28, 2004, 00:43:12]