At the beginning of the season, a bye week scheduled before the final two games of the season may have seemed a bit odd. But after the Bulls pulled off consecutive wins to keep the team in contention for a possible bowl bid, the bye week before USF’s home finale against UAB comes at a perfect time.
Coming off its second consecutive double-overtime victory, this one a 38-37 win at East Carolina on Saturday, USF will use the extra time to rest players for the final two games of the season.
“We see it as a positive because we’ve got a lot of guys banged up, and we’re trying to treat the injuries we got,” said senior running back DeJuan Green. “Everyone is getting their legs back, getting their wind back (and) getting a good feeling about themselves.”
Though this season hasn’t panned out as the Bulls expected, the team still has something to fight for. And though a Conference USA title in the team’s inaugural season seems a distant memory with TCU and Southern Miss still undefeated in conference play, an attainable goal for the Bulls still exists.
“At the beginning of the season, all we were preaching (was) champs, champs, champs,” Green said. “(But) after the first game it really put a hold on us and really what we were trying to do, which was (go) undefeated.
“We’re just working hard right now, trying to get bowl eligible, trying to get something that the school has never had, and that’s going to a bowl game.”
The Bulls are in a perfect position to reach that goal, especially after Saturday’s victory. USF coach Jim Leavitt commended his players for keeping their focus on ECU, rather than letting it string away during perhaps the biggest distraction of the season: USF accepting an invitation to the Big East Conference beginning in 2005.
“That was a very difficult position to be in, and I was really concerned about it, and that’s really the reason I didn’t go to the Big East hoopla that we had,” Leavitt said. “I thought it would send a message to the players to where Coach Leavitt’s mind and where his focus (was), because I didn’t want it to be in the wrong direction.”
And the players’ focus showed, especially at quarterback, where junior Ronnie Banks came off the bench to throw a pair of touchdowns. Banks’ performance added more fire to a now seemingly impossible situation to decipher: Which quarterback should be the starter?
Banks, redshirt freshman Pat Julmiste and junior Brian Fisher will all likely see time at quarterback the remainder of the season, with the starter being announced most likely late next week.
Leavitt said Banks has taken the majority of practice snaps with the first team so far this week, but according to Green the Bulls’ offense can be more dangerous with all three quarterbacks seeing time on the field.
“That helps us a whole lot because we’re trying to keep defenses on their heels,” Green said. “Each and every one of them has different plays at the quarterback position.
“We’re adapting to it pretty good (and) just working hard in practice.”
The quarterback situation has worked for the Bulls lately perhaps because of one important aspect: an improved running attack.
In USF’s past two victories, the Bulls have had more yards rushing in each game than passing, with Green leading the team both games. After posting a team-high 66 yards against Cincinnati, Green had a career-high 117 yards against East Carolina.
This is the type of running coaches probably expected from Green when he transferred from the University of Georgia in 2001, and the senior now feels he’s ready to break out the rest of the season.
“I feel like I’m coming into my own right now,” Green said. “Right now I’m letting things come to me more, rather than just rushing things and feeling like I have to make a big play every time I touch the ball.”