Home streak on the line
With a team that carries close to 100 players and a staff of assistants who could form a small Army regiment, it would seem impossible that USF coach Jim Leavitt could ever be alone, even in thought.
That is until Leavitt was asked if this week’s opponent, Louisville, is the toughest team to enter Raymond James Stadium and threaten the Bulls’ 20-game home winning streak, the second longest streak in the nation.
“I haven’t thought about (if this is) the best team that’s come to Raymond James Stadium and the history,” Leavitt said. “I haven’t thought about any of those kinds of things.”
If indeed Leavitt hasn’t given any thought to the Cardinals (4-0) breaking the winning streak and handing USF (2-1) its first home loss since the final game of the 2000 season, he’s probably the only one associated with the team that hasn’t had the thought bounce into his head.
USF players certainly understand what’s on the line when the Bulls host Louisville on Saturday at Raymond James in the Conference USA home opener. And if for some reason they had forgotten, former Bulls made sure this week that they remembered.
“Greg Walls is in the weight room right now talking about focus (for) this game, because you know it’s a home game and we can’t let that streak go,” senior free safety J.R. Reed said Tuesday. “Every (home) game the pressure is on. It’s been for three years now that we haven’t lost, so out of respect to the seniors years ago like Anthony Williams, Anthony Henry, Kawika Mitchell and DeAndrew Rubin, we’ve got to keep it going.”
Continuing the record is one thing Leavitt isn’t opposed to, even if he hasn’t spent much time thinking about it.
“Obviously, everyone would like to protect (the streak) because that means you’re going to win,” Leavitt said.
However, this could be the toughest home game for the Bulls to continue the streak. USF squeaked by Memphis and Southern Miss last season, but pounded No. 25 Bowling Green in the 2002 home finale. But the Cardinals are undefeated this season, including a win against Kentucky, which almost upset Florida last week.
“They’re amongst the top (to threaten the streak),” senior wide receiver Huey Whittaker said. “They’re 4-0 coming in, and they’re coming to play.”
“Louisville was picked to be one of the best teams in the conference, and they’re certainly playing that way now,” Leavitt said.
Since Louisville was picked as one of the top conference teams, this game could serve notice to the rest of the conference that the Bulls are a quality team.
“Every game is going to be a statement game in the conference because they delayed us,” Whittaker said. “This is the biggest conference game up to date. This game is just as big, if not bigger (than Army last week) because of the fact that they’re coming in and trying to mess up our winning streak, (and) trying to show us that we don’t belong in the conference. So we take that into consideration.”
In order to win, the Bulls understand they need to make some major adjustments following last Saturday’s 28-0 victory against Army. Although it eventually turned into a lopsided game and USF picked up its first conference win, the offense sputtered at times, most notably in the red zone.
“We have to finish, and that’s what we haven’t been doing,” junior quarterback Ronnie Banks said. “Great teams finish. Our offense isn’t playing great right now because we’re not finishing. We’re moving the ball great, and it feels good that we’re doing that. But we need seven points instead of three.”
After posting a shutout in their first conference contest, the Bulls’ defense will need an equally stellar performance against the Cardinals, who rank No. 1 in scoring offense in C-USA, averaging more than 33 points per game.
“The standard has to rise every week,” Reed said.
Despite the offensive blunders that the Bulls hope will be corrected come Saturday, the team knows the chance for a win is enhanced if the defense can repeat last week’s performance.
“We’ll definitely have a great chance if the defense is playing like that,” Banks said. “I was very impressed. If it continues to be like that, we’ll be all right.”