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Special teams save Bulls' night, pride

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 18, 2000


TAMPA -- There's no denying that the special teams were responsible for Saturday night's win over nationally ranked James Madison.

And South Florida coach Jim Leavitt isn't making any excuses about it. After all, Leavitt reasons, the special teams are a part of the football team aren't they?

"We pride ourselves on our special teams and if we've got to win a ballgame with just special teams, so be it," Leavitt said. "We talk all the time about how special teams will win or lose games. Our specialty teams was a real big difference in that football game."

The special teams accounted for 20 of the Bulls' points in the 26-7 victory.

DeAndrew Rubin's 81-yard punt return for a touchdown was one of the many special-teams highlights.

"We practice hard every day on special teams; that's the first thing we do every day," Rubin said.

But before you start heaping too much praise, Leavitt was quick to point out after watching game film that even the special teams aren't perfect.

"I thought we could have played much better on specialty teams." Leavitt said. "Watching on film, there are some things we could have done better. DeAndrew had a great individual effort, but we can get better."

REMEMBERING THE PAST: The Friday night pregame activities included a trip down memory lane.

"The night before the game we showed them film of (last year's) game," Leavitt said. "I think the guys were embarrassed by last year. So emotion played a part in it (Saturday's win). We got beat by Kentucky and we didn't feel like we played well enough, so the guys really wanted to come out and play."

OFFENSIVE WOES?: The offense hasn't produced big numbers the past two games, but at least one former Bull isn't worried.

Former quarterback Chad Barnhardt said during a post-game call-in show Saturday that current quarterback Marquel Blackwell and the rest of the offense will be just fine.

"There is no reason for anybody to panic, no reason for us to run anybody else's offense," Barnhardt said. "They are going to be fine. Marquel is a great guy and a fine quarterback. He's going to be a great one in my opinion. There are going to be some growing pains at the Division I level, which is what he's going through. But he's doing a great job and anybody who has doubts is dead wrong."

Leavitt agrees. On Sunday, he pointed out the offense played well during the first half and managed to move the ball despite starting at the 1- and 3-yard lines in the second half.

"We did a lot better things offensively than we did against Kentucky," Leavitt said. "Marquel ran better and he had better time -- we protected him better."

Still, Leavitt recognizes that the offense needs to improve.

"What people don't realize is that the defense is (usually) always ahead of the offense and the offense starts to come along as the season goes on," Leavitt said. "Is the offense a concern? I thought our offense got better from the Kentucky game, and that's what is important."

CASSESE OUT: Leavitt said Saturday night the herniated disc located along Sean Cassese's spine has ended his South Florida career. The 290-pound guard will have surgery in a few weeks.

"He will be a CEO in a major company soon, giving money back to the South Florida football program," Leavitt said.

Several players missed Saturday's game with injuries or illness, including running back Derrick Rackard, who was out with a sprained ankle. BITS AND PIECES: Leavitt said his major disappointment with the defense is its inability to generate a strong pass rush.

Penalties also continue to plague the Bulls. South Florida was penalized 11 times for 123 yards.

"We can't get penalized like that. Usually it will cost you a game," Leavitt said.

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