Return game trips itself yet again

Published September 10, 2006

TAMPA - Call it many unhappy returns.

If one play encapsulated the self-destructive, frustrating nature of USF's first half Saturday night, it would be the second time Ean Randolph appeared to have scored a touchdown on a punt return, only to have it negated by penalty. Actually, by three penalties on one play.

Randolph, a Durant graduate, has taken four punts to the end zone for apparent touchdowns in his two games at USF. Three of those have been called back, so while coach Jim Leavitt is thrilled about Randolph's one touchdown that held up Saturday, he's also aware of the three that have been taken from him.

"It breaks my heart," Leavitt said. "He does so well, and we keep getting (penalties). The effort's great, but it's very foolish. We've talked at length about it. I say, 'How many times are we going to do this?' Poor Ean, he'd be leading the country easy if we weren't so foolish."

On Randolph's third would-be touchdown, he fielded a Florida International punt on his 38-yard line, but one flag had already been thrown by then. Another flag for a block in the back came during his return, and a third, a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, came when Mike Jenkins took his helmet off to celebrate a touchdown that had already been wiped out by flags.

What's worse, the first penalty, a personal-foul facemask against cornerback Tyller Roberts, happened before the punt, giving the Panthers a first down. So instead of a touchdown for USF and a 14-13 lead, FIU got 30 yards in penalties and a fresh set of downs on the Bulls 40, later leading to an FIU touchdown.

NEW STARTERS: With redshirt freshman Moe Plancher out with a torn ACL in his right knee, sophomore walk-on Ben Williams got his first career start. Redshirt freshman Danny Tolley of Wesley Chapel got his first career start at right tackle, but he was replaced in the opening quarter by sophomore Marc Dile. Sophomore Matt Huners of Palm Harbor replaced starter Jared Carnes at left tackle in the first quarter as well. Senior Thed Watson, who played extensively in last week's opener, did not dress and wore a boot on his left ankle.

At tight end, senior Will Bleakley of Crystal River, arrested Tuesday in Tampa on a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence, was replaced by sophomore Cedric Hill. Bleakley played in the second half.

The only defensive change in the starting lineup was tackle Woody George sliding over to left end, with junior Richard Clebert replacing him on the inside.

RUNNING WOES: With Ricky Ponton suspended and Plancher injured, the Bulls struggled to run the ball, though quarterback Matt Grothe was able to rush for 82 yards. Three running backs - senior Walt Smith, Williams and freshman Keeley Dorsey - had 15 carries for 20 yards, that is, until Williams had a 20-yard run on fourth and 14 with 38 seconds to play to clinch the win.

THIS AND THAT: Sophomore kicker Mike Benzer missed a 35-yard field goal wide in the first quarter. He has now missed his first five, including three last season. ... Chandler Williams' 82-yard punt return was the first for a touchdown against the Bulls since Alabama's Shaud Williams in August 2003. Robert Mitchell's 14-yard interception return was the first for a touchdown against the Bulls since Pittsburgh's Malcolm Postell in December 2004. ... On FIU's fifth offensive drive, USF played its entire second-string secondary, using cornerbacks Ryan Gilliam and Jerome Murphy and safeties Louis Gachette and Carlton Williams.