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Bulls not ready for big boys


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000

College Football 2000 Preview
[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Southern Miss' Joe Henley blocks Devin Sanderson's second-quarter punt.
HATTIESBURG, Miss -- Sometimes, statistics can be deceiving.

Sometimes they tell you everything you need to know.

The statistics in South Florida's game against Southern Mississippi indicate this: The Bulls were unable to move the ball against a dominating defense, didn't make a first down in the first half, committed two crucial special teams errors that led to 14 points and ultimately couldn't stop the Golden Eagles from scoring.

As a result, 17th-ranked Southern Miss defeated South Florida 41-7 in front of 26,559 at M.M. Roberts Stadium on Saturday night.

"We just didn't get it done on offense," said quarterback Marquel Blackwell, who was 10-of-23 for 94 yards and one interception. "They have a good defense, but they scored and we didn't, so we didn't get the job done."

South Florida was stymied by perhaps the best defense it has seen this season, rushing eight times for minus-12 yards in the first half and gaining 4 yards of total offense on 21 plays during the first 30 minutes.

For the game, the Bulls gained 18 rushing yards and 133 yards through the air.

"It was the strength of their defense," South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said about his offensive troubles. "Their defense is very strong and I didn't know what we really could do with them. I was hoping if we could get about 14 points, play a great defensive game, do a great job with the kicking and we'd have a chance."

It didn't quite work out that way.

Southern Miss led 17-0 at halftime. Its defense kept the Bulls' offense on the sideline as the Bulls spent 10:46 on the field in the first half, compared to 19:14 for the Golden Eagles.

The Golden Eagles took a 3-0 lead on Brant Hanna's 42-yard field goal with 8:42 left in the first quarter.

Two possessions later, Southern Miss blocked a Devin Sanderson punt to take possession at the Bulls 16. Five plays later, quarterback Jeff Kelly's 1-yard sneak gave the Golden Eagles a 10-0 lead. With 2:31 left in the first half, Kelly threw a 12-yard pass to LeRoy Handy for a 17-0 lead.

The Bulls punted six times in the first half (11 in the game) and their top rusher, Rafael Williams, had 36 yards on 13 carries. Senior Otis Dixon didn't carry the ball at all. For the game, the Bulls returned one punt for 8 yards and two kickoff returns for 16 yards.

But the South Florida defense held its own early, allowing Southern Miss 52 rushing yards on 27 carries and 96 passing yards in the first half. But it gave up 17 points.

The Bulls offensive line was manhandled as the Golden Eagles sacked Blackwell six times.

"They are pretty good up front and they do a lot of confusing things," senior center Joey Sipp said. "They got us on some of the things that they did with all the moving around. We tried to keep our head up, but it got a little frustrating because we kept going three and out."

The second half was even more unkind to the Bulls. Three plays into their opening drive, Blackwell threw an interception on the Bulls 28. The Golden Eagles capitalized with Hanna's 25-yard field goal for a 20-0 lead.

The first-half blocked punt was the first against the Bulls since the second game of last season against Southwest Texas State. Unfortunately for South Florida, it wasn't the last.

With 7:23 left in the third quarter, Southern Miss blocked another punt, which set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Kelly with 6:30 left in the quarter for a 27-0 lead.

"I think it's obvious our biggest disappointment was the kicking game," Leavitt said. "If we don't get (two) punts blocked and if we do something to hang in there, then maybe it might be 10-0 at halftime. If we can get a touchdown in the third quarter ... then the fourth quarter is interesting."

The Bulls' score came on a 19-yard pass from Blackwell to freshman Chris Iskra with 5:45 left in the third quarter, the first touchdown of Iskra's career.

With a 27-0 lead, the Golden Eagles scored twice more: a 1-yard run by Kelly with 4:02 left in the third quarter and a 2-yard pass from Kelly to tight end Bobby Garner with 13:21 left in the game.

"I am proud of our team," Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower said. "We got ourselves ready to play. ... We are not where we need to be yet. We know that we can be a better team."

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