Seventy-one defensive plays, zero sacks, zero tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry. The result? A 31-27 loss to Ball State and a 2-2 record for the season.
If the USF football team is looking to upset No. 4 ranked Florida State this weekend, it will begin with the play of its front seven the defensive linemen and linebackers.
A season after the Bulls finished second in the nation with 8.25 tackles for loss (TFL) per game and fourth in sacks with 3.25 per game, the Bulls are averaging 5.25 and 2.25, respectively.
Coach Skip Holtz said two factors could be responsible for the struggles of the teams front seven.
I think there are two things affecting (them), he said. For one, I dont think were playing as aggressive up front as we should be. Then second, when youre one of the top five teams in the country in tackles for loss a year before, teams are going to prepare for you and try to combat it with short passes and quick drops.
With the high powered Seminole offense coming to Tampa this weekend, the Bulls will need to create pressure to prevent a big game from quarterback E.J. Manuel. The 6-foot-5 senior has accounted for 1,093 of the teams total yards in 2012, and has passed for eight touchdowns to one interception.
Redshirt junior defensive end Julius Forte said after watching film of the USFs loss to Ball State, he noticed a different play style from the teams front seven.
Ill tell you what we dont see, he said. We dont see USFs front seven out there. For years on end, weve been known for being physical, fast … known for pressuring offenses. We havent been doing that to the best of our ability.
Junior defensive end Ryne Giddins, who picked up 1.5 sacks and 1.5 TFLs on the first defensive possession of the season against Tennessee-Chattanooga and has yet to record another since then, said the team needs to get back to its physical nature.
Were not attacking, he said. The front seven is starting to read stuff, which is not what we are supposed to be doing. So were getting back to attacking now and not just fitting in gaps, we have to hit people in the mouth.
With Manuel and the two-headed rushing attack of Chris Thompson and Tampa native James Wilder Jr. who have combined to run for 642 yards while averaging 8.7 yards per carry, Forte said the defense has to focus on itself, rather than the opponent.
Its not about the guys across the field, he said. I mean, yeah, its Florida State, but its more so about us. What we do will dictate the game. Its up to us, the more pressure and force we create up front, if we create a new line of scrimmage, that will dictate how they perform. We wont let what their playmakers do dictate how we play.
Senior linebacker Mike Lanaris, who took to Twitter to apologize to USF fans about the defenses performance, emphasized the importance of the defenses senior presence.
I think it has nothing to do with the coaches; us as players have to do a better job, he said. We have our job. They teach us that job to be where youre supposed to be, do what youre supposed to do. The seniors accept that fall. Weve got to get this team and defense ready to play.