"Louisville's a good football team, we all know that," said USF head coach Jim Leavitt. "We could have done a few more things that stand out. We missed a field goal that would have gotten us within 10-3 at halftime. In the second half Louisville played well, and we didn't. We dropped a lot of passes, we didn't protect our quarterback, and we gave up a big pass on third down that you just can't do and expect to beat anybody, much less Louisville."
Things don't get any easier for Leavitt and his team this weekend. The school will play its first game in Morgantown, and they'll face a West Virginia team coming off of a record-setting performance against hated rival Pitt.
"They're one of the best teams in the country, and if we go up there and play like we did against Louisville then they'll make us play for it," acknowledged Leavitt, who is the only head coach in USF history. "Hopefully, we'll play better. I'm excited about playing them. I know that they're awfully good. I love the challenge. I respect them a great deal. They're a well-coached team with outstanding players."
Leading the way for the Bulls is redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Grothe. The Lakeland, Fla. product will enter Morgantown with impressive statistics, and as a likely favorite to win the Big East's Rookie of the Year Award. Grothe has completed 174 of 277 passes for 2,216 yards and 13 touchdowns. He's had some trouble with turnovers (13 picks) but that's to be expected from such a young player.
In addition to his arm, Grothe challenge West Virginia's defense with his legs. Through 11 games, he's rushed for a team-high 560 yards and eight touchdowns.
"I think he's done a good job," Leavitt said of his young quarterback. "It certainly wasn't his fault in the last game. He was tough, and he hung in there and battled which is something the rest of the team didn't do. He found three wide open receivers, we just dropped the ball. We didn't protect him. I'm really proud of Matt. We're certainly going to try and build our offense around him over the next few years. We already have this year."
For South Florida to have a chance at a monumental upset, they'll have to slow down West Virginia's powerful running game. That's not a new problem, as every team that plays the Mountaineers knows that to win, they must stop the run. According to Leavitt, that's easier said than done.
"We know that we're going up against one of the best running backs and best quarterbacks in the country," he said, referring of course to super sophomores Steve Slaton and Patrick White. "Everybody tries to figure out who you're going to try to stop, the bottom line is when they're both up for the Heisman then no matter which one you try to stop it's going to be tough. Nobody's stopped these guys, and I don't know if anybody can. We'll find out if we can slow them down a little bit. I hope we can."
It's a tall order for Leavitt's troops to come on the road and defeat a team that is trying to earn their second consecutive Bowl Championship Series berth. Win or lose, he's hoping the Bulls give their best effort this coming weekend.
"It's hard to find a team much better than this group," he said of the Mountaineers. "I remember last year when we played them down here, and seeing them again up at their place I don't know what's going to happen or how it will all play out. We just want to do our best on Saturday."
As they learned against Louisville, anything less than the Bulls' best is likely to leave them with a loss.