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No. 19 USF hosts Syracuse

Syracuse vs. No. 19 USF
When: Saturday, Noon
Where: Raymond James Stadium
TV/Radio: Big East Network

South Florida has been largely successful in stopping the run this season, with the sixth-best rush defense in the country.

Following a bye week, senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said the defense is eager to face the Syracuse rushing attack when the No. 19 Bulls face the Orange at Raymond James Stadium at noon Saturday.

“I hope they (run),” he said. “That’s the type of game I like to play. I like when teams come out and run the football. This isn’t a prima donna type of football. It’s time to go out there and get your nose bloody.”

USF, which has given up 73.3 rushing yards per game, will be up against an Orange rush offense that ranks in the lower tier of the Big East, averaging just 154.2 yards per game.

McKenzie said he wouldn’t be taking the visitors lightly, especially coming off a loss.

“We have something to prove out there,” he said. “Syracuse is a good team, though. They’re a lot better team than people are saying they are. They’re a better team than last year, and they’ll be coming in for a win.”

USF’s defense has held the Orange rushing attack to 69 yards per game in the previous three meetings, while defeating Syracuse by a combined score of 95-20.

However, coach Jim Leavitt said all of that is history.

“Syracuse is a good football team,” he said. “They’ve done well in the last few weeks, and it’s going to be a great challenge.”

Junior quarterback Matt Grothe, who had three touchdowns in a 41-10 victory last year against the Orange, said the Bulls are ready to put the 26-21 loss to Pittsburgh behind them.

“I think we have put it in the past,” Grothe said. “We still control our own destiny, and if we can win out we can put ourselves in a good situation. The week off has given us a chance to get healthy — a lot of the guys on defense were banged up. The bye week came at a good time.”

USF’s defense, ranked first in the Big East in yardage given up, is hoping to get three key contributors back from injury: senior linebacker Brouce Mompremier, All-American defensive end George Selvie and sophomore defensive tackle Terrell McClain.

Though Leavitt did not comment on their status, Selvie and Mompremier have been working all week with the first-team defense.

“It’s exciting to get back out there and play,” Selvie said. “I love to go out and practice preparing for games. The days before Pitt I didn’t even go out there and do anything, but now I feel a whole lot better.”

Selvie said he expects the Orange to hit the ground running.

“Syracuse is a great running team,” he said. “They have some good running backs. They saw that we had trouble in stopping the run a bit against Pittsburgh, so they are going to try and run on us.”

USF is ranked in the top 25 in scoring offense, but struggled in the Pitt loss, totaling 245 yards of offense. The Bulls racked up 582 offensive yards in last year’s victory over Syracuse.

Offensive coordinator Greg Gregory is hoping for a similar performance.

“We’ve learned from our mistakes,” he said. “We are going to find out Saturday how far we’ve come. I think we are about as healthy as we’ve been all year. We need to have some guys make some plays for us this week though.”

One of the players the offense will look to is junior wide receiver Jessie Hester. Hester, who has 20 receptions in his last four games, said he’s anticipating a great atmosphere Saturday for Homecoming.

“Playing at Raymond James is a big factor for us,” he said. “We have the best fans in the nation. When you play at Ray Jay you have to play at the highest level possible.”