South Florida football will play Tulane on Saturday for the homecoming game at Raymond James Stadium, hoping to end a 10-game FBS losing streak dating back to October 2021.
This time around, USF (1-5, 0-2) wants to respond better than it did after the 31-28 loss to then-No. 18 Florida on Sept. 17 which was followed by the 41-3 blowout loss to Louisville on Sept. 24.
“The team that’s going to play the best next week is the one that’s going to be able to move past it,” coach Jeff Scott said on Tuesday. “And we’ve got to find a way to move past it.”
Standing in the way of USF will be Tulane’s defense. The Green Wave (5-1, 2-0) is ranked 15 nationally for total defense, two for total defense in the AAC and seven nationally for scoring defense.
“They’re very athletic … their safeties and corners,” Scott said. “They’re extremely athletic, their linebackers are excellent players. Overall, just team speed and they’ve done a good job of recruiting and developing that.”
Alongside the defensive line, junior quarterback Michael Pratt poses a threat to the Bulls. Posting a 79.4% completion rate against conference teams and 65 rushing and passing touchdowns in his career.
Junior running back Tyjae Spears leads the rushing offense with 312 rushing yards and six touchdowns this season. Senior defensive end Jatorian Hansford said players like Spears and Pratt make the offense look skilled.
“They’re a pretty disciplined team so we just need to come out and play hard, start fast and just do our job,” Hansford said.
Part of that job is the expectation of players to step up and fill the spots of missing players. The Bulls are without senior offensive linemen Donovan Jennings and Brad Cecil who are essential in creating the holes for USF’s run game.
They are not the only ones out as USF had 14 players stay home last week when the team traveled to Cincinnati.
Two more players are now out for the season. Sophomore defensive lineman Rashad Cheney Jr. broke his ankle last weekend and is enduring surgery this week and sophomore safety Ray Thornton III will have surgery for a shoulder injury as well.
Scott mentioned it is too early to say when junior defensive back Daquan Evans, Cecil, senior running back Jaren Mangham and graduate student defensive end Rashawn Yates will return.
However, the Bulls are expecting to see junior running back Michel Dukes on Saturday. Junior running back Kelley Joiner Jr. came back to practice on Tuesday and was able to do individual drills. While he will not play Saturday, Scott said his bone has healed and is on the path toward running again.
“These guys want to get back and they want to help their team,” he said. “A couple of those guys know they could have helped on Saturday and that hurts them.”
With only six games left of the season, Scott is hopeful more players can come back soon to bring the team to the level he believes they are capable of doing.
“The way that we fought last week and all of a sudden we get some more guys back, then watch out,” Scott said.
USF will play Tulane at Raymond James Stadium on Oct. 15 at 4 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Bulls Unlimited and ESPNU.