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Bulls flunk their test against SEC opponent

So much for the nation's No. 1 defense.

The statistical title was an anomaly of sorts after South Florida allowed 145 total yards in its season-opening win against Division I-AA Tennessee Tech. But after the Bulls gave up 530 yards and three deep touchdown passes Saturday at South Carolina, the ranking looked like an outright typo.

The Bulls defense got a humbling reality check, losing 34-3 to the Gamecocks as a crowd of 78,900, the largest to see a USF game, saw the Bulls struggle in all facets.

Ineffective offense? The Bulls managed eight first downs and 191 yards, showing little consistency on the ground or from quarterbacks Ronnie Banks and Pat Julmiste. For the fifth time in school history, they failed to score a touchdown.

Self-destructing special teams? USF fumbled the second-half kickoff, muffed another return, missed a field goal and set up South Carolina's first touchdown by running into its punter.

The No. 1 frustration for the Bulls, however, was a defense that could not stop the Gamecocks, who went in 64th in the NCAA in total offense. Quarterback Syvelle Newton, a converted receiver pressed into starting by an injury to the Gamecocks' starter, threw for more yards (324) in his first start than any South Carolina passer in 32 years.

"He threw for probably 6,000 yards tonight," Leavitt said. "I was real disappointed in a number of things. They were able to run and throw on us. We've got a way to go. It's obvious."

The loss was USF's most lopsided in more than two years, dating to a 42-3 loss to Arkansas in 2002. South Carolina hadn't topped 500 yards since 1995, and the Gamecocks (2-1) finished with the third-highest total ever by a USF opponent.

"It's the worst tackling I've seen us ever do," co-defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. "We got beat deep a couple of times, let the quarterback out of the pocket, all the things you can't do. We're very disappointed, and I didn't have any idea we were going to play that badly. We've got to regroup and go to work."

The secondary, which lost starting strong safety Johnnie Jones to a neck stinger late in the first quarter, gave up touchdown passes of 56, 55 and 73 yards to receiver Troy Williamson. He entered as the Southeastern Conference's leading receiver and didn't disappoint, setting a school record with 210 yards.

"Troy Williamson played a fantastic game," South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said. "Our receivers had to beat man coverage and they made some big plays."

Last week, USF's defensive success came from not allowing big plays, none longer than 22 yards. South Carolina consistently beat the Bulls for big gains, with at least one play of 15 yards or more on its first seven possessions.

USF (1-1) could have trailed by more than its 17-3 halftime deficit, having forced a Gamecocks fumble inside the 10 on another long drive. The Bulls offense, whose longest drive last week was 37 yards, again had few sustained attacks, with one drive longer than last week's best. The Bulls mustered 55 yards in the second half.

Banks, starting in place of injured Julmiste, had an encouraging start, connecting on his first five attempts, including completions of 23 yards to running back Andre Hall and 15 to Willie Williams.

After that, he completed seven of his last 17 passes, including an interception on a deep ball in the end zone. Julmiste replaced him early in the second half but struggled, completing 2 of 10 passes for 7 yards.

"They're what we have. It's kind of where we're at," said Leavitt, who is resigned to the two splitting snaps for now. "Until one of them shows they're any good, until one really moves above the other, where you can tell the quarterback can move that offense, until we get that to happen, we're going to keep on back and forth."

The Bulls' running game, which totaled 185 yards last week, managed 80 on 22 carries, with no run longer than 9 yards. USF's only scoring came on the last play of the first half, when Santiago Gramatica connected on a field goal from a career-long 47 yards.

"I thought we'd get a little momentum there, and maybe we could hang around," Leavitt said.

Instead, the Bulls must collect themselves this week as they open their final Conference USA season on the road against TCU.

"We keep killing ourselves on offense. We can't win a game if we can't score points," senior center Alex Herron said. "We're not being a very smart football team. I know we have to fix it or it's going to be a long season. TCU, Southern Miss, Army, Louisville, they're all playing great football, and that's just the next few games."

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