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Bulls’ defense faces tough test in SMU

Javain Brown has been a force on defense for USF this season. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/GOUSFBULLS

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

When USF men’s soccer (6-2, 1-0) faces No. 4 SMU (9-0-1, 1-0-1) at Corbett Stadium on Friday at 8 p.m., the Bulls will look to halt an unstoppable force that is currently on a 10-game undefeated streak (TV: American Digital Network/Radio: Bulls Unlimited).

A major focus for the Bulls this season has been mental toughness and community, which is a huge talking point among the players and coaching staff.

“They came in with a really good mentality as a group and embrace[d] the kind of things we’ve been doing, and the team we want to be,” coach Bob Butehorn said.

Sophomore defender Javain Brown has been a prime example of mental toughness on both ends of the field, being a defensive leader as well as scoring two goals.

His leadership has been essential to the creation of the immovable object that is USF’s backline, one that has only allowed five shots on goal the last three games. 

“Javain’s really hard on me on the field but honestly, I tell him to go hard on me because I actually like it. It’s a great learning experience and he’s taught me a lot,” freshman defender Salvatore Mazzaferro said. “I see how aggressive he is in attacking the half when he goes up for corners, and it was only a matter of time.”

Both USF and SMU are coming off impressive games, although neither were victories.

USF had a three-game win streak heading into a game against a struggling Tulsa team Saturday. The Bulls held a 2-1 lead when the game was stopped with 21:36 remaining because of a severe weather warning. The game was ruled no contest and a makeup date has yet to be determined. 

But some good did come out of the game.

Junior forward Adrian Billhardt notched his first — though unofficial — goal of the season.

“Sometimes goal scoring is as mental as much as it is physical,” Butehorn said. “For Adrian, I think he’s been in the right spots. He’s had good looks. He’s been feeling really comfortable around the goal [it] just hasn’t gone in. So for him to score was pretty exciting.”

The Mustangs had some difficulties of their own the very next night.

The team traded heavy blows with No. 3 UCF in a 3-3 tie. Entering the game, SMU had only given up three goals the entire season.

A key factor in SMU’s attack is senior forward Garrett McLaughlin, who has scored nine goals through the season’s first 10 games in a bounce-back season. His junior year was injury-filled and he was not nearly as dominant as in his freshman and sophomore years, during which he recorded 42 points.

“I’m glad to see him do well, not only for the conference, but just for himself. And we look to defend him in the right way and hopefully not make him too effective,” Butehorn said.

Despite the resurgence from McLaughlin, Brown is not shaken up by the challenge ahead.

“I don’t know much about them,” Brown said. “And I don’t want to know much about them, it’s just at the end of the day who plays better.”