Two down, two more to go

It’s hard to imagine USF coach Jim Leavitt ever being speechless after a game. Though Leavitt constantly reassures anyone willing to listen that he is not the smartest man on the face of the Earth, he always is able to string a few words together, even if it’s not the best choice of words.

But following USF’s 38-37 double-overtime victory against East Carolina at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium during the Pirates’ Homecoming on Saturday, Leavitt simply couldn’t find the words to begin addressing the media.

“I don’t know what you say about that,” Leavitt said.

Was it the Bulls’ third double-overtime victory of the season that Leavitt couldn’t find the words to express? Was it the fact USF won while using three different quarterbacks in the game? Was it the fact that USF took a big lead, only to watch it dissipate? Or was it Huey Whittaker partially blocking ECU kicker Cam Broadwell’s game-tying extra point attempt, which hit the upright, enabling USF to pull out the victory?

Whatever the reason was, Leavitt and the Bulls (6-3, 4-2 Conference USA) can now rest a little easier going into the bye week. The team kept its bowl hopes alive with a second consecutive victory, leaving the team needing to win its final two games to qualify for a bowl bid.

Though ECU (1-9, 1-5) had struggled mightily this season, the Bulls knew they were in for a battle against the Pirates.

“They’re a (1-9) team, but they don’t play like that at all,” said senior wide receiver Elgin Hicks, who caught a school-record three touchdowns in Saturday’s game. “Coach Leavitt told us this was probably going to be the hardest game of the season, and it was.”

But, on paper, this game was supposed to be the easiest game remaining on the Bulls’ schedule. ECU had won just one game, which came against winless Army, and hadn’t won a game at home all season. But even with their third-string quarterback and third-string running back in the game, the Pirates managed to put up a fight.

“Before the game, I told our football team that East Carolina was going to fight until the bitter end and that this was going to be the toughest challenge that we’ve ever had this year, to come up to their Homecoming two times in a row on the road like this after a double-overtime victory against Cincinnati.”

Also before the game, Leavitt made a decision to start redshirt freshman Pat Julmiste, making him the third person to start at quarterback this season. That equaled the number of players to start at quarterback in the entire program’s history before this season.

However, it was opening-day starting quarterback Ronnie Banks who eventually led the Bulls to victory, further agitating the already shaky quarterback situation.

“They felt confident that I could make plays,” Banks said. “This is my first year. Each game is a learning experience, whether good or bad. I’m learning every day. I’m learning how to be a leader of this team.”

Despite Banks’ success Saturday, which consisted of two touchdown passes to Hicks — including the 22-yard game winner — the quarterback situation remains in constant limbo.

“We told those guys that’s just the way it’s going to be,” Leavitt said. “That situation has been created. You go into the ninth game of the year and we haven’t been moving the ball and we haven’t scored many touchdowns in three or four games, so that’s just the way it’s going to be.”

Leavitt could use the extra week off before facing UAB in the Bulls’ final home game of the season on Nov. 22 to straighten out his quarterback problems. Or he could stick with the improved ground attack, which had senior running back DeJuan Green rushing for a career-high 117 yards.

But one thing is for sure in the upcoming week — Leavitt is sure to find some words to steer the Bulls down their continued path toward a possible bowl.