A score such as the 27-0 win over Syracuse on Saturday wasn’t enough for coach Jim Leavitt.He wasn’t even sure running back Andre Hall’s three broken records would do the trick.
“Sure, we won, but (the Orange was) a very, very difficult challenge,” Leavitt said in his weekly radio show on WADE. “People will say, ‘How can you say that? They’ve lost all these games. They’re 1-7.’ Well, I’ve seen the film. They almost had West Virginia beat (on Sept. 4). Then, they had Virginia beat (on Sept. 17). They were also up on Pittsburgh (on Oct. 22).
“But there is also one thing that people don’t realize, (which) is that I have the draft reports, and there are about five players getting seriously looked at getting drafted. I didn’t tell our players that, though. I thought our players would get all concerned, but going into their place, after coming all the way back from Rutgers and then going to New York and then busing all the way to Syracuse.”
While Leavitt knew of the talent that would present itself on the field, he knew extenuating circumstances of the game would be extra motivation for the Orange.
“And it didn’t help that it was their homecoming,” Leavitt said. “Then (Hall of Fame running back) Jim Brown was in the house, with his number being retired. All of that, and we’d never played indoors, and plus, it was the second time we played on FieldTurf.
“After all that, our guys go out and win a good football game. It basically just says a lot about our leadership from our seniors and the leadership of this football team.”
The Bulls – Hall, actually – got to work quickly on the opening drive, taking his first handoff 38 yards to the Syracuse 42-yard line, but settled with a Kyle Bronson field goal eight plays later.On the Orange’s ensuing drive, safety Johnnie Jones intercepted a Joe Fields pass, after which quarterback Pat Julmiste threw a wobbly 48-yard pass to receiver Marcus Edwards – his first reception of the season – that set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Hall.
It took USF five drives to score again, once more on a Bronson field goal.
Leavitt, however, was still worried, even with a large lead.
“I was really concerned at 13-0,” Leavitt told the St. Petersburg Times on Saturday. “I was worried a lot about this game, especially with all the distractions. I was really worried about our ability to stay focused.”
The rest of the scoring was taken up by Hall. He broke the rushing touchdown record for a career (23) held by former quarterback Marquel Blackwell, the rushing record for most yards in a career (2,345) held by former running back Rafael Williams and most rushing touchdowns in a season (12), which Hall set at 11 last season.
Hall’s three touchdowns were the only points scored by a Bulls’ offensive player. The three takeaways by the Bulls’ defense gives USF nine in the past two games. The defense already has 23 turnovers on the season, though it is well shy of the 38-turnover record set in 2002.
But like most weeks this season, Leavitt is ready to move on.
And even though it’s the first time USF has played at home in nearly two months – the last game played at Raymond James Stadium this season was the 45-14 upset over then-No. 9 Louisville – Leavitt remembers what happened last year at Cincinnati: a 45-23 defeat in which the Bulls amassed only 323 yards of total offense to the Bearcats’ 577, the highest total ever given up in the program’s nine-year history.
Should they win over Cincinnati, the Bulls will become bowl eligible for the first time in USF history.
“Like I said before, this is going to be another very, very big challenge for us,” Leavitt said.
“Cincinnati is such a very big, powerful football team. They just beat the living dog out of us last year. I mean, it wasn’t even a game. Their running backs – all three of them – are all very big and strong.
“(Cincinnati) is hungry. We’ll probably have to play as good as ever to win. Hopefully, being at home will play the role we need it to.”