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Bulls thin at D-line against Utah

Perhaps South Florida coach Jim Leavitt should consider a second career field – in prognostication.

For the first time this season, Leavitt started Shurron Pierson and Chris Daley at defensive ends against North Texas last Saturday in the Bulls’ (2-2) 28-10 victory.

But Leavitt never imagined how prophetic that move would turn out to be.

During the third quarter against the Mean Green, Emerson Morris, who had started the previous three games at defensive end, got tangled up in a pile at the Bulls’ 20-yard line.

The result: Morris broke his right tibia and fibula, effectively ending the 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior’s season.

“It’s going to hurt us. I mean, Emerson’s a great player,” linebacker Kawika Mitchell said. “It looked bad.”

And indeed it was. Morris lay motionless on the field while athletic trainers hovered over him, stabilizing his leg in an immobile brace. Play was stopped for nearly 15 minutes as Bulls’ defenders huddled on one knee, hanging their heads. One look at Morris’ mangled leg brought to life every athlete’s worst nightmare – a stomach-churning injury.

“It looked pretty gruesome on the field,” Daley said. “I (saw) his leg; it looked pretty awful.”

Senior Bernard Brown, who has overcome a broken leg and hip during his USF career to start in the defensive backfield for the Bulls this season, said witnessing the severity of Morris’ injury was tough.

“Just watching him, it brought back a lot of bad memories,” Brown said. “I knew all the things going through his mind.”

After sitting for two years behind Shawn Hay and Steve Hartley, Morris was poised to become a force on the Bulls’ defensive line this season. He had recorded 12 tackles this year, five behind his total for the 2000 season. Morris also equaled his sack total of 1.5 from 2000, despite being only four games into the season. But according to Daley, the loss of Morris extends beyond the football field.

“People respect him because he’s been around the program so long,” he said. “It just comes with time, when you have freshmen coming in, they look up to a person like that. And they try to follow the guidelines that he had to follow and get answers from him on how to survive in college football.”

And if Morris’ season-ending injury didn’t hurt the Bulls’ defensive line enough, USF will be without Derek Carter for the rest of the year after the freshman went down during the North Texas game with a dislocated left shoulder. This leaves Daley, Pierson and Cedric Battles as the only defensive ends on the roster with experience. Battles is listed as the backup for starters Daley and Pierson on the Bulls’ current depth chart.

“One person can’t fill his spot,” Brown said. “It’s going to take everyone to pick up the slack.”

One person who will be aiding the defense in filling Daley’s spot will be tackle Tchecoy Blount. During the last two seasons, Blount has played end, racking up 6.5 sacks in 1999. Leavitt said Blount may see action at end Saturday against Utah (3-1) to spell the starters.

“We’re going to have to look at Tchecoy at D-end a little bit,” Leavitt said. “He’s started at D-end for two years, so we’re going to have to give Tchecoy some reps at D-end.”

If the Bulls are to eclipse the .500 mark for the first time this season, the defensive front four will play a major role when South Florida travels to face Utah Saturday at 7 p.m. EDT. Utah (3-1) boasts the No. 12 rusher in the nation, Dameon Hunter. Last week against New Mexico, the then-No. 2 defense versus the run, Hunter shredded the Lobos for 177 yards and two touchdowns on his way to earning the Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Week award. Hunter ranks 12th in the nation at 126.2 yards per game and his effort against New Mexico was his third straight 100-yard performance.

According to Daley, the rest of the defensive line will have to take a cue from the example Morris set.

“When me and Emo (Morris) came in this summer, he kept telling me, it’s me and you all year,” Daley said. “Now I have to get that relationship with Shurron (Pierson) and the other D-ends, and other front four, so we can all come together as one.”

  • Brandon Wright covers football and can be reached at oraclebrandon@yahoo.com