Quarterback Matt Grothe will workto make the Bulls 3-0 on Saturday. ORACLE PHOTO/SEAN REED
USF will host North Carolina at noon Saturday in the program’s first-ever home game against a non-conference BCS opponent.
“North Carolina is a very good football team,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said. “It’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us. Playing an ACC team here in Raymond James Stadium – I don’t think we’ve been in that situation before, so we’ve worked extremely hard to try and be ready for this game.”
The Bulls are 1-0 all-time against the Tar Heels, with the only game a 37-20 victory for USF in Chapel Hill last season.
North Carolina made some changes in the offseason, the most notable being the hire of former Miami Hurricanes head coach Butch Davis.
Davis – who entered this season ranked among the top 15 winningest coaches in Division I-A – has returned to the college game after a four-year stint with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. The Tar Heels’ visit to Tampa will mark Davis’ first collegiate game in Florida since leaving Miami after the 2000 season.
Davis’ record and coaching style have caught the attention of the Bulls as they prepare for Saturday’s contest.
“Last year when we played Carolina, they were a very good team, and now they have Butch Davis,” USF receiver Taurus Johnson said. “He’s all about speed now. It’s going to be a good game Saturday.”
The majority of North Carolina’s speed can be found on the offense, which is led by breakout freshman quarterback T.J. Yates, who is second in the ACC in passing efficiency (178.85) and yards per game (300.3).
“One big thing is their quarterback,” senior linebacker Ben Moffitt said. “He’s a freshman, but he has the will to win and he plays with heart. We’ll have to do a lot to try and take care of him.”
Making Yates’ job even easier is a stable of talented receivers. Three Tar Heels wide-outs are in the ACC’s top five in receiving yards this season, including Hakeem Nicks, whose 53-yard touchdown reception against Virginia was “the greatest individual play I’ve seen in 33 years of coaching,” according to Davis.
“The (UNC) receivers are outstanding – absolutely outstanding,” Leavitt said. “They have the best receivers I’ve seen in a while. They’re great playmakers. They run well, catch the ball and have tremendous speed and
Defensively, the Tar Heels are anchored by outside linebacker Durell Mapp. The 6-foot-2-inch, 235-pound senior is leading the ACC and tied for third in the country, averaging 13 tackles per game this season.
USF is coming off a bye week following the team’s 26-23 overtime win at Auburn on Sept. 8. A lot of hype has been generated about the program since receiving its first-ever Division 1-A national ranking (No. 23 in the Associated Press poll).
With national anticipation building surrounding the Bulls’ Sept. 28 match-up with No. 4 West Virginia, the team has made a conscious effort not to overlook the 1-2 Tar Heels, who have lost their last two games by an average of only 2.5 points.
“(Not looking ahead) is a real big concern because everybody wants to think about other big games that are coming up,” sophomore defensive end George Selvie said. “But coach Leavitt really makes us focus on the game that’s ahead and lets us know that this is the biggest game of our life. If we lose this game, the rest of the games don’t matter. We’ve got to win every week and be consistent.”