The Bulls lead 16-0 at halftime and go on to defeat Jacksonville State 40-0.
|[Times photo: Bill Serne]
USF running back Rafael Williams scores a touchdown as he is hit by Jacksonville State defensive back Delvin Hughley at the goal line.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000
TAMPA -- Jim Leavitt expected to win Saturday night.
But even he had to admit his South Florida team poured it on a little more than he anticipated.
Rafael Williams and Otis Dixon combined for 174 yards on 30 carries and sophomore quarterback Marquel Blackwell threw for 166 yards and two touchdowns to lead USF to a 40-0 win over Jacksonville State in front of 30,043 at Raymond James Stadium.
"I was real proud of the team's first game," Leavitt said. "Did I expect to win 40-0? I expected us to win. I didn't know exactly what it would be. Any time you get a shutout, that's great. That's huge. Really, we had no film (of previous games). We didn't know what they do offensively." With a new coaching staff at Jacksonville State, the Bulls had little to go on. It didn't matter.
The USF running game was impressive (Williams gained 114 yards), the offensive line held its own, the kicking game was solid and the defense, as expected, was dominant. It added up to a 513-151 advantage in yards. While Jacksonville State isn't the toughest opponent the Bulls will face this season, USF got what it needed: a chance to work out a few kinks and gain confidence before taking on Kentucky.
And the Bulls wasted no time getting started.
USF scored on its opening drive, a 25-yard field goal by Bill Gramatica, his first since suffering a groin injury last October that caused him to miss the final six games of the season.
But that drive didn't end spectacularly, as the Bulls went 49 yards on 17 plays and ate seven minutes off the clock, only to lose 3 yards on a third-and-goal shovel pass at the 6-yard line.
|[Times photo: Jim Damaske]
USF Tchecoy Blout, left, and Ron Johnson take down quarterback Reggie Stancil.
The Bulls settled for a field goal.
After the Gamecocks failed to convert first downs on their next two possessions, the Bulls put together a five-play, 51-yard drive that ended with a 21-yard touchdown by Williams with 11:57 left in the second quarter, giving USF a 10-0 lead.
With that, Williams went over the 1,600-yard mark for his USF career.
"I would compare this to opening night, our first game ever," Williams said. "Last year our offense kind of struggled in the early part of the season. I remember my sophomore year (1998) our offense was clicking and tonight reminded me of that."
Gramatica's 43-yard field goal with 5:49 left in the second quarter gave USF a 13-0 lead.
The score was set up by an eight-play drive that included a 19-yard reception by Charlie Jackson, giving the senior from Miami 1,012 yards, No. 1 on USF's career list.
The Bulls relied on Gramatica for three of his four field goals in the first half. The senior had three from beyond 40 yards (43, 43 and 41).
The defense, the most experienced unit of the Bulls, came up strong.
USF held Jacksonville State to three-and-out on three of its first four possessions. The Gamecocks were 2-of-10 on third down conversions and gained 27 yards rushing on 27 attempts, 124 yards in the air. USF finished with 224 passing yards, 289 rushing. In addition to his two touchdowns, Blackwell rushed for 84 yards on nine attempts. USF led 16-0 at halftime but came out strong in the second half, scoring on its opening possession. With 7:08 left in the third quarter, Blackwell scrambled out of reach of Jacksonville State's Askaree Martin, then lofted a 28-yard pass to DeAndrew Rubin, who leaped behind a defender for the touchdown. Gramatica's extra point gave the Bulls a 23-0 lead.
"We came out slow, a little bit tired, a little bit sluggish," Leavitt said. "It was pretty humid out there tonight. I don't know, maybe I should have conditioned our guys a little bit better. We got going a little bit better in the third quarter. I thought we started showing a little bit of good effort."
Dixon's 2-yard run, a diving leap over a pile of defenders, with 3:04 left in the third quarter gave USF a 30-0 lead. Then less than two minutes later, the Bulls took a 33-0 lead on Gramatica's final field goal. A Roy Manns fumble recovery on the 24-yard line with 2:45 left in the third quarter set up the score.
Manns recovered his second fumble with 1:03 left in the third, which set up USF's final score, a 16-yard pass from Blackwell to Rubin.
"USF is a really good football team," Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe said. "They were very physical and very well-organized out there. It took a really good fight from us just to keep up."
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