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Two out of three is enough for USF 26-7

Defense, special teams make up for so-so offense against James Madison.

[Times photo: Jim Damaske]
James Madison receiver Lindsay Fleshman can't hang on as USF safety Roy Manns breaks up a first-half pass.

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000

TAMPA -- Following last week's loss to Kentucky, South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said the only way the Bulls would have a chance to beat James Madison was if the entire team improved.

Offense. Defense. Special teams.

Two out of three was more than enough.

With a dominating performance from the defense and spectacular play from the special teams that led to 20 points, South Florida rebounded with a 26-7 win over James Madison, in front of 23,002 at Raymond James Stadium Saturday night.

For the second consecutive week, the South Florida offense struggled, gaining 169 rushing yards on 44 carries and 60 passing yards.

The offense scored one touchdown, set up by a blocked punt.

It didn't matter. The defense and special teams took care of things.

James Madison came in on the heels of consecutive 300-yard rushing games, but the Bulls didn't allow the Dukes to run wild on their home field.

The Bulls held the James Madison to 55 yards on 30 carries. The Dukes lost 51 yards in rushing during the game. James Madison gained 180 passing yards but failed to score through the air.

"We handily beat the 13th-ranked I-AA team in the country and if you're going to be a I-A team, that's what you've got to do," USF coach Jim Leavitt said.

"James Madison is a very good football team. They really are."

The Dukes are ranked No. 10 in the USA Today poll and No. 13 in The Sports Network poll.

On its opening possession, James Madison seemed poised to score first, but Mike Glover's missed 46-yard field goal ended a 12-play drive.

South Florida (2-1) answered with a nine-play drive, culminating with a 51-yard field goal by Bill Gramatica, the longest of his career and in USF history.

Gramatica's kick set the tone for the rest of the game. The first-half big plays came fast and furious after that.

The Bulls held the Dukes to 4 yards on their next possession. To cap it off, Vassay Marc blocked Glover's punt, setting South Florida up with a first down at the JMU 25-yard line with 3:10 left in the first quarter.

It was the first blocked punt for USF since the fourth game last season, against Troy State.

Five plays later, Otis Dixon scored the offense's only touchdown, a 6-yard run with 10 seconds left in the first quarter.

For the rest of the first half, it was the special teams and the defense that put points on the board.

Twenty Bulls points were scored by the special teams.

"The special teams play was the big difference," James Madison coach Mickey Matthews said. "When you can't snap the ball to the punter in major college football, you're going to get beat and that's exactly what happened tonight. When you give touchdowns away, you're not going to win."

With USF up 10-0, the Bulls' defense again came up strong, allowing 18 yards on the possession after Dixon's touchdown.

Facing fourth and 6 on the 38-yard line, the Dukes punted again. And the South Florida special teams responded.

Sophomore wide receiver DeAndrew Rubin returned Glover's punt 81 yards for a touchdown, the first in South Florida history.

Gramatica's kick failed after a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and the Bulls took a 16-0 lead with 12:07 left in the first half.

Again, the USF defense stood its ground, holding the Dukes to four and out on their next possession.

James Madison quarterback Charles Berry was rushed all night and struggled to find open receivers. He was 19-of-42 for 180 yards (93 in second half) and two interceptions (by Shawn Hay and Roy Manns).

With 10:21 left in the first half, Glover fumbled from punt formation and as the ball rolled into the end zone, redshirt freshman defensive back John Miller recovered the ball for a USF touchdown and a 23-0 lead.

Gramatica's 33-yard field goal with 5:20 left in the first half ended the scoring for the Bulls, but it was more than enough to secure the victory.

"The second half they beat us 7-nothing," Leavitt said. "Why it always happens like that, I don't know."

James Madison scored its only touchdown on a 12-yard run by Berry with 9:39 left in the game.

The quarterback keeper capped a 10-play, 74 yard drive, the longest of the game for the Dukes, and ended USF's streak of seven scoreless quarters at Raymond James Stadium.

Despite its offensive struggles, senior running back Rafael Williams managed to ground out 122 yards on 28 carries.

"The second half I was a little disappointed, but all in all I thought our guys play pretty good," Leavitt said.

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