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Southern Miss shows how far Division I-A is

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 9, 2000


On paper, South Florida is neither Division I-A nor I-AA this season. After Saturday, coach Jim Leavitt is ready to say the same about the Bulls on the field.

USF's 41-7 loss at No. 16 Southern Mississippi proved to Leavitt that the Bulls have a long way to go to be competitive in Conference USA.

The Golden Eagles manhandled them on defense, wore them down on offense and delivered the knockout punch on special teams.

The Bulls have two weeks to heal and absorb the lessons from the loss before the second half of the season, which includes games at I-A Connecticut and Middle Tennessee State. USF takes on I-AA Liberty at home Oct. 21.

"We're a transition team, and I think it's pretty evident," Leavitt said. "We're still not strong enough to play at the I-A level quite yet. It doesn't mean we can't somewhat be there by the end of the year.

"I'm impressed with (Southern Miss). They're the team we need to go after. I think it showed where we've got to go, the direction we've got to take."

Though the offense gained no first downs and just 4 total yards in the first half, Leavitt was more unhappy with the play of special teams.

Two of Devin Sanderson's punts were blocked, both leading to touchdowns. Southern Miss also converted on a third-quarter fake punt that led to a touchdown.

"Forget the offense and defense, if we play special teams like that we can't win," Leavitt said. "Our punt team's got to get better in all phases. ... I didn't see anybody on specialty teams that had a very good game."

And even though the Golden Eagles ran the fake punt while up 34-7 early in the fourth quarter, Leavitt said he didn't think the call was out of line.

"Honestly, I didn't even think about it until I was asked that after the game," Leavitt said. "Shoot, I think that's (our) fault. ... We usually have people guarding eligibles (receivers), but in that situation we didn't. We were trying to block, trying to see if we can get something to happen."

INJURY REPORT: The Bulls will need the bye week to heal. Linebacker Anthony Williams, who left with a sprained medial collateral (knee) ligament, should be able to play against Liberty, Leavitt said. Defensive end Shawn Hay did not start for the first time in 27 games, then aggravated his ankle injury by playing late. Center Joey Sipp and defensive back J.R. Reed played with strained hamstrings. Receiver DeAndrew Rubin (ankle) made an appearance but did not contribute.

Of those who didn't play, linebacker Vassay Marc (herniated disc in neck) seems the most seriously injured. The injury was reported as a shoulder sprain. He will be re-evaluated in about 10 days, Leavitt said.

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