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‘We have something to prove’: USF prepares for Louisville

Offensive tackle Donovan Jennings and the rest of USF’s offensive line helped sophomore running back Brian Battie rush for a career-high 150 yards against the Gators on Saturday. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

After their close game against the No. 20 Gators on Saturday, the Bulls are hungry to maintain their momentum Sept. 24 against Louisville.

USF (1-2) showed major improvements in the UF (2-1) game such as converting third downs and running the ball. Senior offensive lineman Donovan Jennings said the Bulls’ performance prompted them to have the confidence they needed going forward.

“We feel like we have something to prove,” Jennings said. “Last week showed us that we’re capable of doing so much more than what we have put on tape so far.”

This will also be the first time USF will travel to Louisville (1-2) since 2012. The previous time they played each other, the Cardinals blew out the Bulls 34-3 in Tampa in 2013.

Coach Jeff Scott described the Cardinals to be extremely aggressive and physical, especially Louisville’s senior quarterback Malik Cunningham. Posting a career total of 7,889 passing yards and 62 touchdowns, he is set to break records of now-Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson from when he was at Louisville from 2015-17.

“I would say that the quarterback is a talented player and he’s the guy that you got to account for on every play,” Scott said. “They’re trying to find ways to let him be a runner and the offense really goes through him.”

Besides Cunningham, the Cardinal’s defense poses a threat to the Bulls. Louisville has 122 total tackles and is leading the ACC with 10 sacks.

This past week, the Cardinals fell short to Florida State. Scott hopes USF can break through Louisville’s run defense in similar ways FSU did in its 35-31 win Friday.

“Their linebackers, safeties and defensive line are really good,” he said. “But Florida State was able to find a couple of explosive runs which opened up.”

The Bulls need to keep an eye on some key players in their offense. Junior running back Kelley Joiner Jr. is still out on an unknown injury. Scott described senior running back Jaren Mangham as “not 100%” due to an ankle injury, forcing sophomore Brian Battie to step forward.

On Saturday, Scott is expecting the return of junior safety Christian Williams from an arm injury and for sophomore wide receiver Jimmy Horn Jr. to have recovered from an ankle injury.

“Unless Jimmy reaggravates at some point this week, [we will] ease him back in,” Scott said. “Hopefully we’ll have him back.”

However, sophomore wide receiver Ajou Ajou is still out and senior linebacker Brian Norris needs surgery after a season-ending knee injury from the UF game.

Jennings described the preparation to just “click” last week against the Gators. While the team is fired up to bring home a victory, Scott said they need to remain focused and maintain their confidence if they want to win this weekend.

“This week, it’s a whole new game,” Scott said. “The same reason a team that played very poorly against BYU could play very well against Florida. It can turn the other way. The goal is to clean up some of the mistakes and become the standard. And that’s the next level for us to see if we can do that through multiple weeks and continue to improve.”

The Bulls will play the Cardinals in Louisville on Sept. 24 with a noon kickoff. The game will be streamed on the ACC Network and broadcast on Bulls Unlimited.