For the third straight week, the USF football team’s defense will line up against a quarterback from Florida.
First it was Miami’s Jacory Harris, from Miami Northwestern High School, that threw for 259 yards to beat the Bulls on Nov. 19. Friday, it was Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, from the same high school, who threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns to beat the Bulls.
USF will hope for a better result Thursday against one of the Big East’s best quarterbacks in West Virginia’s Geno Smith, from Miramar High School.
Smith arrives in his home state throwing for an average of 340 yards per game, fifth-best in the nation. He has won the Big East Offensive Player of the Week award twice this season.
“Geno has grown up,” USF defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. “He’s playing extremely well right now.”
Smith has been helped by the presence of wide receiver duo Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, who rank first and third, respectively, in the Big East in receiving yards per game.
“He’s got Stedman that he played with in high school as his ‘go-to’ guy,” Snyder said. “Tavon Austin, I think, is special. They’re really good out wide. … This is probably the best corps of receiver/quarterback that we’ve faced this year.”
The Mountaineers run one of the more unique defenses in the conference, a 3-3-5 stack defense, which features three down linemen, three linebackers and three safeties in addition to the two cornerbacks. In comparison, the Bulls run a more traditional 3-4 defense.
“They give you a problem because of their structure,” coach Skip Holtz said. “They’ve been playing it for a long time and they’re very good at it. They don’t have the exotic blitzes (like) a Rutgers or a Syracuse and some of the other people we’ve seen, but they’re very good at what they do in coming after the quarterback.”
The Mountaineers defense came up with 10 sacks last week against Pittsburgh in a 21-20 win that kept WVU in the hunt for a BCS berth as Big East champion.
“Going into the game, they were either second from last or last in the league in sacks,” USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. “They still are lower, but they did have 10 against Pitt. (Defensive end Bruce) Irvin is one of the best pass rushers in the league.”
Irvin has 7.5 sacks this season, third-best in the conference.
While West Virginia-USF isn’t a natural rivalry either historically or geographically, it is considered by most players to be a rivalry. The series is tied 3-3, while the 2007 edition saw the highest home attendance in USF history with 67,012 fans at Raymond James Stadium.
“West Virginia is always an important game,” senior guard Jeremiah Warren said. “I just can’t wait to play them.”
“This is one of the games that’s been at the top of the list every year that I’ve been here,” senior Patrick Hampton said.
Fifth-year seniors like Warren and Hampton were on the sidelines for that game in 2007, sitting out their redshirt year. Hampton said it was one of the best nights of his life.
“That was one of the biggest games of my years being here, even though I didn’t play,” he said. “Just being in that environment and seeing (Raymond James Stadium) packed to a tee – you could look to the very top of the stadium and see every seat filled. When it got to third-down and people started yelling, that’s the loudest I’ve ever heard Ray Jay. That was a special day.”
Hampton and USF will hope for better attendance than last Friday’s 19,115, the lowest total in five years. Kickoff on ESPN2 is scheduled for 8 p.m.