In the first three weeks of the season, the South Florida defense suffered three key injuries. Senior linebacker Brouce Mompremier had a severe neck injury and All-American defensive end George Selvie and sophomore Terrell McClain have missed playing time because of ankle injuries.
After a loss — and a bye week — the No. 19 Bulls (5-1) are nearly healthy in preparation for Saturday’sgame against the Syracuse Orange (1-5).
Mompremier could return to action after almost a month off. The defense hopes McClain and Selvie will be fit to play Saturday.
“Brouce has been getting comfortable,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “It’s very important to get those guys back out there. We have really missed them. And after a week off and a loss, everything should be positive and ready to go.”
Without Selvie, Mompremier and McClain, the USF defense gave up 142 yards rushing and two touchdowns to Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy in a 26-21 loss.
Now that the defense is healthy, Selvie said he thinks the defense is well prepared to face the Orange.
“I’m healthy enough to go out and start,” he said. “Just being back in with the starting defense, and to see Brouce back there is great. Everybody is back now, and we’ll be able to do what we want to do.”
Senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said he feels the defense has to make up for giving away so many yards.
“When you lose, there is one thing you need to prove, and that is to go out and win again,” he said.
Coach Jim Leavitt said it was tough to lose, but is optimistic that his team will respond well this weekend against the Orange.
“We were disappointed,” he said. “This football team is a great group of guys, though. Everything I’ve ever asked them to do, they’ve done. They’ll play hard. You just have to go play the game though, and dial away.”
The Bulls should be optimistic. USF has defeated Syracuse by a combined score of 95-20 in their last three matchups. But, Leavitt said, he is concerned about the offensive side of the ball.
“We’ve been inconsistent,” he said. “At times we’ve done extremely well. We went out and played well against N.C. State, but then we struggled against Pittsburgh. We have to be able to protect the quarterback.”
The Bulls have racked up more than 500 yards total offense in each of the two previous meetings with the Orange. Offensive coordinator Greg Gregory said he hopes the team has learned from its mistakes this year and will be more effective against Syracuse.
“I think we’ve made some adjustments on the things we’ve been struggling with,” he said. “Pitt jumped on us — we didn’t make plays, and that’s the bottom line. We need to make plays Saturday.”
One thing Gregory said he has the players keep in mind is that every conference game counts, and no win will come easy.
“Every game is a grind and is going to be a dog fight,” he said. “You got to be ready and willing to fight.”