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Sluggish Effort Gives Bulls A Needed Dose Of Reality


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By JOEY JOHNSTON

Published: Sep 2, 2007

TAMPA - When the South Florida Bulls wrote their $300,000 check to pluck a season-opening Division I-AA opponent from the Southern Conference, they essentially purchased a victory.

That's how it works.

Right, Michigan?

Oops.

More on that later.

Saturday night's score will barely cause a ripple nationally - USF 28, Elon 13 - because the Bulls were supposed to win.

But it doesn't tell the story.

"We were not really good tonight," Bulls coach Jim Leavitt said. "We've got Auburn next week. If we played like this [next week], you know what it would be like.

"We play Auburn next week. But we were thinking about Elon."

For 60 minutes.

USF was rescued by the heady play of quarterback Matt Grothe, a stunning three-touchdown night from good-as-advertised freshman Mike Ford and just enough Elon mistakes to sabotage any realistic upset hopes.

Other than that, the Bulls went through the motions, a far cry from a team that has received Top 25 poll mention, light years from the group that everyone seems to be picking to contend in the Big East Conference.

Elon played with, well, elan.

Bottom line?

"We should be leaving here with a win," Phoenix sophomore wide receiver Terrell Hudgins said.

Big Day For Southern Conference

Hudgins wasn't overstating the case.

Elon University was not awed by the charter flight to Tampa - the program's first plane trip since 2003.

"A few of the guys were scared to fly, but not [scared by] this game," Hudgins said, smiling.

Elon was not overwhelmed by Raymond James Stadium. And freshman quarterback Scott Riddle, who played for a prep state championship the last time he suited up, matter-of-factly completed 33 of 54 passes for 210 yards.

"Hopefully, they [uSF] put on their underwear the same way we do," said Hudgins, who caught a 26-yard touchdown pass with 3:22 remaining, then recovered an onside kick, giving life to the finish.

Elon was good.

But it wasn't Appalachian State.

At mid-afternoon Saturday, Phoenix players were still at the hotel, breaking from meetings, preparing for the pregame meal when the final highlights flashed on ESPN.

Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32.

The same Appalachian State that shares a conference with Elon had just stunned the college football world.

"There was a lot of reaction to it, a lot of smiles," Elon athletic director Dave Blank said. "Did it have any influence on the way we played? I think we were confident anyway."

"Anybody can beat anybody," Hudgins said. "Give credit to Appalachian State. But when we stepped on the field, regardless of that, we thought we were going to win."

Changes In The Air?

Leavitt didn't doubt that sentiment in the postgame aftermath.

"At least we won the game," Leavitt said. "It wasn't like another team [Michigan]."

In time, maybe the sluggish effort will help the Bulls, who were due for some humbling after an offseason of nonstop praise. It was a nice touch of reality for a team that certainly has potential, but also has plenty of question-mark areas.

Without offering specifics, Leavitt said he's planning changes. Maybe to the lineup. Possibly to the method of preparation. But like he said, if things stay the same, the Bulls are on course for a major-league embarrassment at Auburn.

"We played bad," USF wide receiver Amarri Jackson said. "Really, really bad. Way below our level. Trust me, we'll be ready to play against Auburn."

Leavitt should make certain of that.

When the postgame questions were running dry, Leavitt suggested there was really nothing left to say.

"You're getting my drift," he said, heading back to the locker room.

There's work to do. USF's season wasn't undone - Michigan's hopes might have been - but the performance might serve as a needed slap in the face.

That perspective alone might be worth the $300,000. And as Elon's Hudgins will attest, Auburn probably puts on its underwear just like USF does.

 

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