It’s not easy being green — at least that’s what history shows when South Florida plays at Louisville.
The No. 16 Bulls will travel to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium — a place they’ve never won — and take on the Cardinals on Saturday.
“For the most part, we’re worried about the fact that we’ve never won up there,” said junior quarterback Matt Grothe. “We want to go up there and show that we can win on the road.”
The last time USF (6-1, 1-1) traveled to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in 2006 it didn’t go well for the men in green.
The Cardinals defeated the Bulls 31-8. Grothe had -18 yards rushing in that game and threw one interception. He said the game is still on his mind as he enters Saturday’s matchup.
“Last time we played up there it was just miserable,” he said. “We didn’t play well, and it showed on the scoreboard. We need to go up there and play well. It’s a big game because the loser is probably out of the Big East race.”
South Florida is fourth in the Big East and must still play two of the three teams ahead of them in the standings. A loss against Louisville (4-2, 0-1) could mathematically ruin their hopes of a Big East championship. This threat, however, provides the team with motivation, said senior safety Louis Gachette.
“We lost against Pittsburgh,” he said, “so every game is important now. This is the part of the schedule that is most important, these next few weeks. In order for us to still win the Big East, we have to win every game, and it all starts up there at Louisville.”
Grothe said that getting a win at Louisville would give the team momentum as they approach a tough part of the schedule.
“This is a time when these games matter most,” he said. “Louisville is a team that’s won the Big East before. Then, next Thursday we have to go to Cincinnati, which will be a tough road game on Thursday night. So we need to get a win Saturday, especially being on the road.”
Despite the tough stretch of games, coach Jim Leavitt said he’s more focused on this week.
“We’ve got one game, that’s Louisville, and that’s all I’m worried about,” he said.
Gachette and the rest of the USF defense will be up against one of the top rushing attacks in the nation. Cardinals running back Victor Anderson ranks in the top 15 in the nation for rushing, with 110.5 yards per game. Leavitt said he’s a tricky running back to prepare against.
“He’s a great player. He’s great at running the football,” Leavitt said. “He’s a guy with a lot of speed so we are well aware of his abilities.”
Senior defensive end Jarriett Buie said pressure on the offensive line will be a focus this week. On average, the Bulls have given up just under 78 yards rushing per game this season.
“They’ve got a great running back, and an even better offensive line,” he said. “They’re probably the biggest offensive line we’ll play all year.”
The defense will be without one of its strong points in the secondary. Senior safety Danny Verpaele suffered a broken foot in last week’s win against Syracuse and could be out for the remainder of the season. Defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said this could play a huge role in the defensive approach this weekend.
“We are going to have to move some people around,” he said. “We may play some nickel, but we also will use some more of a base defense. (Cornerback) Tyller Roberts will play some more nickel, and Louis Gachette will have to step in and play. So, it’s definitely going to affect us.”
Gachette said the fact that Verpaele is a senior makes the loss hurt that much more.
“It’s a big loss,” he said. “For me personally it hurts, because Danny is like my brother. It hurts, but I’m glad to be getting more playing time, and we are going to play for him.”
Buie, a Tampa native, said he wants to win this game for the fans.
“We’ve never won up there,” he said. “That is by far one of our biggest motivations. We want to go up there and win this one for the University of South Florida. We want to win at Papa John’s Stadium.”