If the fact that Charleston Southern is a Division I-AA team was supposed to sway USF coach Jim Leavitt’s outlook about Saturday’s game, it isn’t going to happen.
“I’m not concerned about whether this team is a I-AA team or a I-A team,” Leavitt said. “I don’t think that’s a factor. I think that what’s important is that your team comes out and plays well and plays hard and plays with discipline.”
The Bulls’ boss is unfazed by the Buccaneers’ 4-4 record so far in 2002, treating the Big South foe as he has USF’s more familiar I-A opponents.
“It’s like anybody,” Leavitt said. “I’m not really concerned about a team that we’re playing. I’m really not. I’m more concerned about the level that we perform at.
“It’s just like when you play Oklahoma. You can’t be concerned about Oklahoma too much. You have to be concerned about your team, your players and how they go out and play.”
It would seem the biggest concern for the Bulls (5-2) as they head into the home stretch of their season is health. Starting strong safety Kevin Verpaele and nickelback Sidney Simpson are both nursing leg injuries that might keep them out of action Saturday when USF plays its first of three straight home games.
Senior defensive tackle Tavares Jurineack and junior wide-out Huey Whittaker are also injured and might not be in the lineup when USF looks to extend the fourth-longest home winning streak in the nation to 17 games.
Although the Bulls would miss those starters, it could present the opportunity for Leavitt to give his backups extended minutes. That was just his intention Thursday, when USF had its third Bull Bowl of the season.
The Bull Bowls are intrasquad scrimmages designed to let some of the backups, as well as players redshirting, get more snaps in a game setting.
“I watched that game, and I didn’t think anybody stood out that was unbelievable,” Leavitt said. “I thought a lot of guys played pretty well, and I thought a number of guys need a lot of work. … A lot of players in that Bull Bowl are going to play a lot of football for us.
“Antonio Warren got good work, and I thought that was important because he’s playing a lot of football for us,” Leavitt said. “Julian Johnson got some good work, Jason Allen, those guys are playing a lot of football for us right now. Craig Kobel got a lot of good work, and he’s going to play a bunch. He’s played already for us.”
Whether the starters can go or some other players get more time, Leavitt said it doesn’t change his preparations.
“We always prepare everybody for every game because you don’t know with injuries and health,” Leavitt said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against. Your other guys have to be ready to go, and they’ve always got to be prepared.”
Leavitt hopes all that preparation is centered on Charleston Southern and his players aren’t getting ahead of that confrontation Saturday.
USF still has a homecoming date with Memphis, which they lost to on the last play of the game in 2001, and Bowling Green, which is ranked No. 18 in the ESPN/USA Today poll.
“It’s important for our guys to stay focused on one game at a time and not get ahead of ourselves,” Leavitt said. “I think that’s critical, and I think that will be a real key.
“If people ask our players about how it’s going, I hope they’re very boring. I hope they say, ‘We’re going to focus on Charleston Southern,’ and that’s it. I hope that’s all they say because if you start getting away from that, especially with a fairly young team, then you can lose a lot of momentum.
“Who can improve at this time of year is really big. A lot of teams don’t.”
Anthony Gagliano covers USF football and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org