TAMPA - On a day when fourth down spelled trouble for the Bulls, one long-awaited conversion gave USF a dash of hope in the second half of its 31-15 loss to Memphis.
Facing fourth and 9 on their 33, the Bulls pulled off the fake punt, snapping the ball to redshirt freshman linebacker Josh Balloon, who found a hole on the left side of the line and sped 31 yards down the Memphis sideline.
The Bulls wasted the opportunity, getting stuffed for a loss on a goal-line fourth and 1 seven plays later, but for a moment, Balloon's run gave USF an offensive spark.
"We've been preparing for that fake punt ever since the beginning of the season," said Balloon, a Jefferson graduate who has played primarily on special teams this season. "It was just time to run it. We've been waiting for the right time."
Balloon showed strong open-field moves and even moved the ball to his outside hand, stiff-arming a defender at the end of his run. As a senior at Jefferson, he rushed for 866 yards, helping the Dragons to back-to-back state championship games as a two-way standout. He was happy to return to his offensive days, if only for one play.
"It felt kind of good," Balloon said. "I wish I had put another move on him. That'd be six points."
BOTH SIDES NOW: Senior Bruce Gipson became the first USF player to start games on offense and defense in the same season when he started in place of injured cornerback D'Juan Brown. Gipson, who started the season on offense and started three games at receiver, finished with six tackles but was part of a disappointing defensive effort that gave up 470 total yards to Memphis.
GETTING BETTER: USF leads the nation in penalties per game, but the Bulls were disciplined Saturday, committing a season-low four penalties for 41 yards. The only flag that led to a Memphis first down was a pass interference call in the end zone, but proved harmless as USF held the Tigers to a field goal. As little as the Bulls were penalized, Memphis played a cleaner game, drawing only three flags for 15 yards.
BULLS BITS: Junior punter Brandon Baker, who entered fifth in C-USA with a 41.5-yard average, had the second-longest punt in USF history, a 67-yard effort that bounced to the Memphis 7. USF leads the conference in net punting at 41.5 yards, and Memphis didn't return any of Baker's three punts, giving him a 43.7-yard net averagefor the day. ... Running back Billy Henderson of Pinellas Park, who had two carries entering the game, carried twice for 24 yards, including a 19-yard burst. ... Receiver Joe Bain, a junior from Dade City, did not dress for the second time in three games because of a pelvic injury. Bain was tied for the team lead in receiving yards when he was sidelined. ... Murray Cape, chairman of the selection committee for the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala., attended and could be extending an offer to Memphis by Monday. The bowl has the second choice among C-USA schools. Saturday's loss means the Bulls won't be bowl eligible this year, but give coach Jim Leavitt credit for trying some politics. Cape said Leavitt stopped by Mobile to give a "delightful" speech to the Mobile Alltel First and 10 quarterback club this month.