Sophomore safety Jerrell Young said his teammates don’t need a reminder about how important it is to beat Louisville.
Throw aside the facts that Bulls are one win from bowl eligibility and that they’re in another midseason slump. Young said the team is together and ready to finish the season the way it started – winning.
“When we’re down, it’s never a sense that we’re down because my teammates have my back and I have their back,” he said. “It’s never to the point where it’s us turning on each other. We just have to keep trying to dig and hopefully we’ll pull through.”
USF (6-3, 2-3), which has dropped three of its last four after starting the season 5-0, will have a good chance to get back on track during Saturday’s Homecoming game, hosting Louisville (4-6, 1-4) at noon at Raymond James Stadium.
Louisville needed a late fourth-quarter touchdown to beat Syracuse last weekend – its first Big East win since Oct. 25 of last year, a 24-20 victory over then-No. 14 USF.
There is a sense of urgency among the team, quarterback B.J. Daniels said, as USF’s last two opponents are No. 20 Miami and on the road at Connecticut.
“Saturday’s real big,” Daniels said. “It keeps our bowl game alive. It’ll also be an uplifting game to come out with a win. It’ll really set the tone for the rest of the season. Obviously, we want to do well and go to a bowl game. This is the first step.”
The Cardinals have struggled this year on the road, losing in all five attempts. USF is 3-for-4 at home. Louisville has never won at Raymond James Stadium.
On paper, this is the Bulls’ game to lose, but what happens Saturday is all that really matters, Young said.
“I look at it as if we don’t play our best game, we won’t win,” Young said. “Anyone in Division I football, if you don’t play your best game, it’ll be hard to win. Just execute and play hard.”
The Bulls have won three of their past four homecoming games, beating Syracuse 45-13 last year.
“We’re just looking to go out there and have fun, then celebrate afterward because it is homecoming,” said senior defensive end George Selvie.
But to win, the Bulls will have to get a stuttering offense back on track after getting shut out at Rutgers last week. USF offensive coordinator Mike Canales said he held an extensive meeting Monday with the offense to discuss some of the issues.
“How to handle adversity – that’s the biggest thing we talked about,” Canales said. “We got shut out, we didn’t play very well … how are we going to address it? What are we going to do next? That’s what we talked about.”
The defense, however, got much praise from USF coach Jim Leavitt after the unit spent a lot of time on the field at Rutgers.
“I thought the effort out of a number of our defensive players was very good,” Leavitt said.
The Bulls’ defense was put in a number of short-field situations but held Rutgers nevertheless. USF ranks third in the conference in total defense and 23rd in the country in scoring defense. It’s the easily correctable things that hurt the team, said USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey.
“You talk about the same stuff you do every week,” Tresey said. “Explosive plays, penalties, third down defense, red zone defense, tackling … all those things we talk about weekly.”
The only thing the players have really talked about this week is having a chance to turn around the season, clinch bowl eligibility and do it on Homecoming.
“Keep fighting, that’s all you can do,” Young said. “Things aren’t going to go your way sometimes.”