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USF set for another road test in Pittsburgh

When the Bulls visit Pittsburgh to face their first Big East opponent of the season Thursday night, they hope their luck away from Raymond James Stadium continues to go in their favor – this time for a nationally televised game on ESPN. The Bulls have won five straight road games, dating back to last season’s win at Cincinnati.

Regardless of recent successes on the road, USF coach Skip Holtz said beating Pittsburgh remains a difficult task, and the crowd could be a challenge for his team. If the Panthers’ stadium, Heinz Field, is sold out, there will be more than 60,000 fans for the Bulls to contend with. The noise could become a large disadvantage for the visiting Bulls (4-0), he said.

“It’s very difficult to win on the road,” Holtz said. “You have a lot of issues that you’re dealing with, with crowd noise and the silent cadence (and) communication, that makes it very difficult and easily takes you out of a rhythm.”

The Panthers (2-2) have won their first two games at home, but if USF wants to continue its success on the road, Holtz said it’s going to have to start with the defense and the players’ ability to block out the crowd noise. He said his team learned to do this in its last few road tests.

“The biggest thing to me to be a great road team: you have to play great defense and try to keep the crowd out of it, and you (have) got to turn to play together,” Holtz said. “It’s really important – the support factor, the togetherness factor, the camaraderie and the unity – because you’re playing for each other. You’re not playing for the crowd and all the circus things that are going on outside the lines.”

Another reason the Bulls have been succeeding on the road lately is because of how Holtz prepares his team, according to defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.

“I’ve told him I tip my hat to the preparation that he has because he did the same thing with East Carolina – they played well on the road when he was there, and thus far, we have done that,” he said.

USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch agrees with Snyder and said the players have been on the same page since last year, helping their chances on the road.

“I think (with) the way coach prepares them, the way we travel (and) the way we do things that there’s a feeling like we’re getting on this thing together … It’s “us” and we need everybody to be on the same page,” he said. “I think the kids bought into it a year ago.”

Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. in Pittsburgh, where USF is 2-2 all-time.