tampabay.com

Special teams comes through

The Bulls block two McNeese State punts, one leading to a score.

By MIKE CAMUNAS
Published September 3, 2006


TAMPA - Two punts blocked, though the second one involved no kick at all.

Junior cornerbacks Trae Williams and Ryan Gilliam were involved in two significant blocks in South Florida's 41-10 win over McNeese State on Saturday. Both plays led to scoring opportunities.

Williams' block came in the second quarter as Cowboys punter Blake Bercegeay was too slow to get the kick off. McNeese State recovered the ball, but with a turnover on downs, an ensuing 17-yard drive led to a missed field goal by kicker Mike Benzer.

Coach Jim Leavitt said the punt block wasn't the played he called. The Bulls were set up for the return, but instead got their first punt block since Nov. 5 at Rutgers.

"We really had the return on," Leavitt said. "It came off the weak side, and we always bring the guy on that side, but the (punter) didn't have much time either."

Williams said he had a "straight shot" to the punter and "was completely untouched" on his way to the block.

"We practice (the block) all week long, and sometimes it just works out," said Williams, who also had an interception in the first quarter. "All around, it was just a good play for me."

Gilliam's block, on the other hand, turned out to not even be a block. At the start of the fourth quarter, Bercegeay lined up for his fourth punt of the game, received a low snap and was greeted by Gilliam just as Bercegeay was about send the ball out of bounds. Gilliam ended up pushing Bercegeay out of bounds at the Cowboys' 12-yard line for a 14-yard loss.

The block gave the Bulls good field position, leading to a 10-yard pass from freshman Matt Grothe to senior Ean Randolph.

"I wouldn't call that a punt block at all," said Gilliam, who transferred in 2005 from Oregon, where he played sparingly. "Actually, it was really nothing special. I was actually trying to strip the ball once I got to (Bercegeay)."

Unlike Williams, Gilliam said he did face some opposition on the play, getting hit in the shoulder, but he "pushed the guy off" and "just got there at the right time."

Leavitt is familiar with Gilliam's speed, as the junior also runs track for South Florida. Leavitt also recognized the importance of both blocks.

"Obviously, Gilliam can run," Leavitt said. "Those two did a great job, and (those blocks) really helped us later on."

While Gilliam was happy with the play, he still wanted more out of his first game in two years.

"I could've done more tonight," Gilliam said, "but to have that in my first game in so long, I'll take it."