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USF Looking To Make Statement Against Auburn


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USF Looking To Make Statement Against Auburn

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By BRETT McMURPHY The Tampa Tribune

Published: Sep 8, 2007

AUBURN, ALA. - Before last week's opener against Elon, University of South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said the Bulls were likely hearing all sorts of things.

"What they hear from the media, from their friends, 'This will be a walk in the park, you'll win by 80,'" Leavitt said. "Psychologically that's very, very difficult.

"But that's not being said this week [when USF visits Auburn]. They're not hearing that this week. They're probably hearing the other things."

Like USF's record against Southeastern Conference teams.

It's not pretty. The Bulls are 0-4 all-time against SEC opponents, losing at Kentucky 27-9 in 2000, to Arkansas 42-3 in 2002, to Alabama 40-17 in 2003 and to South Carolina 34-3 in 2004.

It's not that the Bulls lost, it's how they lost. They were dominated in all facets - offense, defense and special teams.

Arkansas (547 yards), South Carolina (530) and Kentucky (527) each rolled up more than 500 yards total offense. And Alabama, which only had 391 yards, still managed 40 points.

The most competitive game USF has had with an SEC foe was against Kentucky and the Bulls weren't even Division I-A members yet, still making the transition from Division I-AA.

Tonight the Bulls (1-0) hope to end their SEC struggles against No. 17 Auburn (1-0) on national TV (ESPN2, 9 p.m.). With the Tigers' storied tradition and more than 87,000 expected at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Leavitt said it's obvious what kind of impact a USF win would have for the Bulls' program.

"It would mean a lot, everyone knows that," Leavitt said. "It's Auburn. The eagle flying around, it's the tiger. The whole deal.

"How many teams are that powerful that have two logos? That's pretty good. That's pretty strong. I know nobody thinks we have a shot. We know that. We'll go in there and play hard and try to do the right things."

The Bulls will be playing in front of the second-largest crowd in school history.

"If you're competitive you look forward to these type of situations," Leavitt said. "When I was in high school I wanted to go wherever you could to play the best. I enjoy being in those types of arenas. Why wouldn't you like that? To find out and the mentality of our football players is like that.

"We're excited to play. I can assure you. It's a challenge to play the best teams in the country, to play in a football atmosphere we're going to play in. We'll see how our players respond."

Even though Jordan-Hare is so loud that USF defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said the defensive players can't hear each other, the Tigers don't think USF will be intimidated.

"They'll be ready for it," Auburn senior defensive end Quentin Groves said. "They play in big stadiums all across the country. Being in the Big East, they're used to playing in big-game atmosphere.

"We have to use the crowd to our advantage this week. They go out of the shotgun. The offensive line can't see the ball. They're keying on you. We have to use the crowd."

Added Auburn freshman linebacker Craig Stevens: "I don't know they're going to be star struck. They've been in situations like that before, going to West Virginia and Louisville. They'll come out ready to play."

USF quarterback Matt Grothe, who turns 21 today, said: "It's on my birthday, so it would be kind of a nice birthday gift for me. It's going to be real exciting, real fun."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

SOUTH FLORIDA (1-0) AT NO. 17 AUBURN (1-0)

KICKOFF: 9 p.m.; Auburn, Ala.

TV/RADIO: ESPN2/WFLA, 970 AM; Sirius Ch. 153

THE LINE: Auburn by 6 1/2

KEEP ON EYE ON

USF - With junior LG Jake Griffin starting for injured C Nick Capogna, and junior Ryan Schmidt starting at left guard, USF's offensive line depth consists of freshmen LT Jacob Sims, C Sampson Genus and LG/RG Jeremiah Warren. Only Sims played last week.

Auburn - The Tigers have their own share of offensive line problems. Against Kansas State, QB Brandon Cox was sacked five times. Look for USF to blitz its outside linebackers to put even more pressure on Cox.

KEY STAT

USF - The Bulls are 0-8 when playing before crowds larger than 55,000. More than 87,000 are expected at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which would rank as the second-largest crowd to witness a USF game.

Auburn - The Tigers are 12-1 in home night games in the past four seasons, including victories against four nationally ranked teams, and 23-5 in nonconference regular-season games under Tommy Tuberville.

INJURY UPDATE

USF - C Nick Capogna (knee), LG Matt Huners (knee) and RB Moise Plancher (ankle) are out. RT Jared Carnes (knee) and LB Chris Robinson (ankle) are questionable.

Auburn - RB Brad Lester (suspension) is out. LB Tray Blackmon (ankle) and WR Montez Billings (hamstring) are questionable. K Wes Byrum (ankle) and DB Aairon Savage (ankle) are probable.

AT STAKE

USF - While tonight's outcome will have no bearing on USF's hopes for the Big East title and BCS bowl berth, the Bulls have an opportunity to showcase their program before a national television audience. A USF victory would virtually guarantee the program's first AP ranking in school history.

Auburn - Last year the Tigers were the only team to defeat eventual national champion Florida. And because the state of Florida is such a key recruiting area for the Tigers (they have 21 Floridians on this year's roster), another win against another BCS Florida team would only help maintain those recruiting ties in the Sunshine State.

KEY MATCHUPS

When USF has the ball - Against Elon, QB Matt Grothe said the Bulls used only seven plays. They'll use everything in the playbook tonight, but to be successful, freshman RB Mike Ford must be effective against an Auburn defense that allowed only 27 yards rushing against Kansas State. If USF can't establish the run, Auburn's defensive line will be after Grothe all night.

When Auburn has the ball - The Tigers weren't exactly an offensive juggernaut against K-State last week (62 yards rushing, 229 yards passing and only 16 offensive points) and may find it even tougher against USF's speedy defense. Look for Auburn to try to pound the ball at USF in an attempt to wear down the Bulls' undersized defensive line.

PREDICTION

For the past few weeks, basically every national columnist and dot.com expert has predicted USF to upset Auburn. It went from being a trendy pick to a cliche. Unfortunately for the Bulls, it won't happen. Here are four reasons why the Bulls fall to 0-5 against SEC teams: 1. Crowd of 87,000; 2. At night; 3. Between the Hedges; and 4. A banged-up, thin and inexperienced offensive line.

Score: Auburn 28, USF 10

Reporter Brett McMurphy can be reached at (813) 259-7928 or bmcmurphy@tampatrib.com.

Wow, we only used 7 plays against Elon? I knew we were holding a lot back, but not that much

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