After traveling to play No. 16-ranked Notre Dame to start 2011, the USF football team is facing a different sort of challenge for the 2012 season: playing a Division 1-AA opponent.
Coach Skip Holtz said the challenge when playing a seemingly second-tier opponent is staying focused and not taking anything for granted.
As much as this week we have to look at the game plan and our opponent, Holtz said, the biggest thing we need to look at is what we can do and what we can control, and thats us.
The Bulls will match up against the Mocs from the University of Tennessee- Chattanooga, a football program with a 20,668-seat stadium and three NFL alumni, a far cry from the storied program of Notre Dame. Sophomore receiver Andre Davis, though, said this game will be treated equally.
The way I plan on approaching (the game) is taking it like the Notre Dame game, Davis said. Keep it on just as high a pedestal, because the first game is very important. We want to play like its a division game or a bowl game.
Though the hail from a lower division, the team is renowned around the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) for its strong defense, which includes three preseason FCS All-Americans in junior linebacker Wes Dothard, senior defensive lineman Josh Williams and junior defensive back Kadeem Wise.
It all starts on defense, Holtz said. Statistically, theyve been one of the best defenses in their conference. Its not so much schematic, what they do, they just line up and play so hard; their two defensive ends play with a great motor. Their middle linebacker is also very active, but I think the guy that makes the team work, is the safety. He makes the defense run. They have a great safety, a great linebacker, a great defensive
end and they add a 300-pounder at nose guard. Were going to have to come off the ball on the offensive line and put a hat on a hat all game.
The Bulls are heavy favorites for Saturdays game, and offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said he looks at the season opener as an opportunity to see how his new players react to the pageantry and excitement of game day while still focusing on getting the win.
Obviously, priority one is picking up the win, Fitch said. The first game is kind of like Christmas you dont know what you are going to unwrap. Some guys react positively, some react negatively depends on how they react to playing under the lights.
Senior quarterback B.J. Daniels is focused on making sure the team moves to 1-0 after the weekend, and said he hopes to come out of the weekend unscathed in both senses of the word.
I think Coach Holtz has done a good job of talking to us, stressing when we were in Vero about how important game one is, the fifth-year senior said. We want to be 1-0, thats our mentality, and we dont want to take anyone for granted. Theyre on scholarship, theyre college athletes, too. Priority one is getting the win, and Id say priority two is getting out of the game healthy.
Though their opponent may not be as highly regarded as their season opener a season ago, the Bulls refuse to look past a team that, according to senior running back Demetris Murray, is reminiscent of the 2011 edition of the USF football team.
Theyre a good team, theyve got a lot of guys coming in from other areas, and if you look, they lost five games by a couple of points against good teams in their conference, Murray said. Kind of like us, theyre a good team, but their record didnt show it. Were really practicing and getting ready to play this team.