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Bulls prepare for home opener

After a grueling stretch of three straight road games, the USF football team will stay home Saturday playing their first game of the season at Raymond James Stadium.

Bulls? coach Jim Leavitt said he?s ready to play in front of the home crowd.

“When you travel you lose a day, you have to go stay in a hotel somewhere and try to work through all the differences,” Leavitt said. “I?d much rather be at home.”

The original home opener for the Bulls was scheduled to take place Sept. 15, but was delayed by national events. Leavitt said for many on the young Bulls? team it will be a new experience playing at Raymond James.

“We?re kind of used to going on the road I guess,” he said. “(It will help that) the people of Tampa will come out and watch a game; the home crowd.”

The game is also important in that it?s the first time the Bulls have faced a Division I-A opponent at home. The Bulls will face the North Texas Mean Green, who are 0-3 this season. Leavitt said there is a lot at stake against North Texas.

“North Texas is 0-3, and they need to win. South Florida is 1-2, and we need to win,” he said. “It?s going to be a tough task for us.”

Leavitt said North Texas?s record does not indicate how well they?ve played. The Mean Green have had a difficult early-season schedule. They have played strong teams in Texas Tech and TCU as well as defending national champion Oklahoma. Leavitt said he was impressed by the fact the Mean Green were down to Oklahoma only 14-10 in the third period.

“They?ve played three very good football teams,” Leavitt said. “You?re talking about two of the top offenses in America (in Oklahoma and Texas Tech).”

North Texas is a member of the Sun Belt Conference. The Bulls have only played one other member of that conference, losing 45-9 at Middle Tennessee last season. Leavitt said he?s concerned whether the Bulls, who are favored for the first time ever against a Division I-A opponent, can eliminate costly mistakes.

“I hope we can play and get in there and battle them,” he said. “Last time we played a Sun Belt team we got (beat) bad.”

The Bulls? defense, which held Memphis to just 51 total yards in the second half, has another tough task in stopping the North Texas running game. Four of five offensive linemen return to the Mean Green from last year?s squad.

“They run the ball extremely well,” Leavitt said. “Their offensive line is big and strong.”

Behind that offensive line, the running attack is led by Kevin Galbreath, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in two of three games this season.

“They?ve got one of the best running backs we?ve seen to date,” Leavitt said. “He?s awfully good.”

The Mean Green offense is led by quarterback Scott Hall, who ran for 230 yards and passed for another 937 last season. Leavitt said part of what makes this offense so difficult to defend is the fact they can work out of both an I-formation and spread set.

“It?s going to be interesting for our defensive coaches to come out and try to make some decisions on what do we get ready for because they can do a number of things,” he said.

Defensively, the Mean Green are tough against the rush, having not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. The defense is led by senior linebacker Brad Kassell, who is on the watch list for both the Butkus and Lombardi Awards. They are given to the nation?s best linebacker and lineman, respectively. Leavitt said the Mean Green defense has a number of good athletes.

“Oklahoma and Texas Tech moved the ball on them, but there were times they?ve played awfully good defense,” he said. “We?re probably going to have to run the ball to have some success.”

The Bulls? offense will have to recover after a rough outing last week. While the offense gained 400 yards, the only points they could muster came off a field goal.

“We?re not going to be very successful if we don?t get the ball in the end zone,” Leavitt said. “We have to figure that one out.”

The Bulls hope to have an easier time than in previous weeks. In the Bulls? first three games, the average point differential has been less than a touchdown. Two of those three games have come down to the final play. Leavitt said this game will probably be no different.

“I think it?s going to be a heck of a ballgame,” he said. “I?ve said that for the first three weeks already; I don?t think I?ve been wrong.”

  • Rob Brannon covers football and can be reached at