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For USF, a bit of progress

Published Oct. 2, 2005

The list of things to do on Jim Leavitt's Five-Years-to-Division I-A Plan is never-ending.

It contains things like: 1) Teach the kids the rest of the offensive and defensive packages _ but not all at once. 2) Get that new building (memo to self: More lockers!). 3) Lock the linemen in the weight room (and hide the key for a while). 4) Recruit, recruit, recruit.

The Bulls have countless milestones to reach before they can be considered one of the state's top programs. But they can take solace in one thing: After less than three months, they're further along than a program that has been around for six years.

In a game that often looked like exactly what it was _ one young team playing against another _ USF (3-5) prevailed 24-6 on Saturday over obviously overmatched Charleston Southern (1-7) at Houlihan's Stadium.

But win No. 3 in program history did not come easily for the Bulls. Instead of steady offensive production, the game was marked, at beginning and end, by big plays.

In the first quarter, 5-foot-6 freshman wide receiver Charlie Jackson did what he had longed to do since the opener, skittering to the end zone on a spectacular 94-yard kickoff return. Late in the fourth quarter, strong safety Roy Manns returned an interception, his second of the game, 39 yards for another touchdown.

Overall, though, the Bulls had trouble getting into scoring position. In the second half they didn't get inside the Bucs' 20-yard line until the last play of the game.

"Offensively, we're just inconsistent," Leavitt said. "We stop ourselves. We've just got to stop the mistakes especially with the expectations and the goals we have. If we're going to be a I-A program (competing) with the likes of people in this state, those little mistakes will kill you.

"Our guys have got to have high expectations, because the goals are very high for this program."

The Bulls had only one offensive touchdown drive against a team that, in many ways, is like them _ except with less raw talent and almost no financial backing. The Bucs, who started their program in 1991 at the Division III level, have only 30 scholarships to offer and have just three seniors in the starting lineup.

With all three quarterbacks hurting, Charleston Southern's most outstanding asset proved to be its kicking game. Placekicker Clint Kelly booted a pair of field goals in the first half (39- and 31-yarders) for the Bucs' only scores, and punter Clay Williams averaged 48.6 yards on nine punts, including first-half punts of 59 and 60 yards.

To USF, the snapping of a two-game losing skid, despite the quality of opponent, was cause for celebration. But this time fewer people were around to celebrate.

The announced attendance was 25,361, but the actual crowd was 12,226, according to the Tampa Sports Authority. At times the 74,301-seat stadium was eerily quiet. The stands cleared minutes after the game.

For the Bulls, the attendance figure may be the least memorable statistic of the night. The best belonged to Jackson, who racked up 204 return yards. He had 100 yards on four punt returns, and the rest on two kickoff returns.

Jackson's performance was rivaled only by Jermaine Clemons. The sophomore from Clearwater High led the offense with a career-high 133 yards on 14 carries (a 9.5 average), with one TD and a long run of 53 yards. The night was especially poignant because it was a year to the day after the death of his grandfather, Shorty Bruton.

"He was on my mind the whole week," Clemons said. "After that (53-yard) run, I looked up in the sky and felt his power in me."

USF kicker Steve Riggs added to his totals for the season. After a 27-yard field goal in the second quarter, he is 9-for-9 on field goals inside the 40-yard line. He missed a 44-yarder.

The Bulls' defense gave up a season-low 176 yards and was better on third-down conversions (4 of 15) than it has been for the past several weeks. But Leavitt was unhappy that the Bucs were able to rush for 131 yards, well over their 84.9 average.

"They ran for too many yards on us," Leavitt said. "I was a little disappointed that they got as many yards on the option as they did."

Charleston Southern actually got on the scoreboard first, thanks to a fumble by Clemons early in the game. He bobbled the ball in the first quarter, giving it to the Bucs at USF's 12. But the Bulls' defense pushed them back 10 yards and Charleston Southern had to settle for a field goal.

The Bucs didn't lead for long _ 16 seconds, to be exact. That's the amount of time it took Jackson to return the ensuing kickoff for the go-ahead score, following his blockers 94 yards straight downfield along the right hash mark.

The Bulls' only touchdown drive was in the second quarter, and it was all Clemons. After Jackson returned a punt 42 yards to the Bucs' 28 to set him up, Clemons finished the job. He rushed left for 5 yards, up the middle for 9 and up the middle again for the 14-yard touchdown.

But that was nearly all the excitement for USF until the fourth quarter, when Manns picked off Andy Tarr a second time and notched his second interception return of the season.

Leavitt would rather see more offense and, of course, stingier defense. But he admitted just having a victory was nice for the Bulls' self-esteem.

"It's discouraging," Leavitt said, "when you work as hard as these guys have and they don't win a ballgame."