Bulls prepared for familiar foe

Sophomore defensive end George Selvie was featured, along with the Bulls, on the main college football page on ESPN.com Wednesday. ORACLE PHOTO/JOSE LOPEZ JR.

No team has been able to contain the Mountaineer duo of Patrick White and Steve Slaton quite like USF.

However, according to West Virginia, the Bulls had the upper hand last season, with offensive coordinator Rod Smith tipping off plays, allowing the defense to contain the Heisman hopefuls.

“It seemed like they had our plays before we’d run them,” junior Mountaineer linebacker Reed Williams told the Times West Virginian.

Smith played quarterback under West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez at Glenville State and became well versed in the no-huddle spread offense he implemented.

Smith also served as a graduate assistant under Rodriguez but left for a full-time coaching position at USF. During a six-year stint in South Florida, he helped install a similar type of offense for coach Jim Leavitt.

Last season when the Bulls defeated then-ranked No. 7 West Virginia 24-19 in Morgantown, the Mountaineers totaled just 132 yards rushing, their lowest total all season and 171 yards fewer than their average for 2006.

Slaton, a junior running back, has averaged 124.1 yards per contest during the regular season in two-plus years. In two games against USF, he’s averaged 64.5 yards, including a 43-yard performance last season, the lowest rushing total of his career with 10 or more attempts.

During the Mountaineers’ last visit to Raymond James Stadium, White rushed for 177 yards, including two touchdown runs of 65 yards and 76 yards for the 28-13 victory.

Against the Bulls last November, the quarterback was limited to 17 yards on 15 attempts and was intercepted twice.

For USF, the biggest difference between last year’s victory and its loss to West Virginia in 2005 was an increasing familiarity with the potent offense in practice.

“The thing is that somebody would think that Pat White would have the ball and someone would get nosy and go for him and (he’d) break (loose) for 80 (yards),” senior nose tackle Richard Clebert said. “We learned from our mistakes and we can’t do that. It’s not really a statistical game.”

West Virginia has the No. 2 rushing offense this season, averaging 357 yards per game, trailing Navy by just three yards per game.

Friday, the Bulls may have the disadvantage, as Smith has returned to the Mountaineers as quarterbacks coach along with offensive line coach Greg Frye, who served the same role at USF in 2006.

Even though Smith has an intimate knowledge of the Bulls’ offensive and defensive schemes, the team doesn’t think having former coaches on a Big East rival is a handicap.

“That was real tough finding out that they were going to West Virginia to go coach but we’re still going to play our defense,” defensive end George Selvie said. “He might know some of our plays but he has to stop us first.”

The defensive philosophy all season has been the same: control the line of scrimmage, pressure the quarterback and force opponents to try to pass on cornerbacks Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins.

Through three games it has worked, as opponents are gaining just 79 rushing yards per game, tops in the conference.

No one in the country has been more successful at pressuring quarterbacks than Selvie. He leads the nation in with 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Through three games, the sophomore already has the third most sacks in a season in team history and is on pace to break the Big East record.

Terrence Royal (2005) and Shurron Pierson (2001) share the USF record for sacks in a season (10) and former Louisville Cardinal Elvis Dumervil (2005) holds the Big East record of 20 sacks.

Even though USF has brought in two new coaches and rearranged its staff since 2006, the same basic philosophy remains in place. If West Virginia knows exactly what is coming at them, the Bulls are confident they can repeat their success.

“Not much has changed, we just keep playing hard. We just have to win and we have to play relentless football,” Selvie said. “This is a big year for us; we’ve played some great game already this season. This is just going to be another one.”