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College football

Bulls defense focused on rebounding

USF seeks an extreme makeover at Louisville after last week's second-half collapse.

By GREG AUMAN
Published October 22, 2004

As if five second-half touchdowns were not enough, Army continued to score on USF's defense as Craig Kobel tried in vain to sleep Saturday night.

"I kept seeing the scoreboard. I saw 28-20 going into the fourth quarter, then I saw 42-28. It really hurt," said Kobel, the senior defensive end who had two sacks and a forced fumble in the 42-35 homecoming loss. "We knew those guys could run the ball, and it was so frustrating because I felt we were suffocating them in the first half."

For Kobel, it was toss sweep and turn most of the night. He expected Army's players not to give up, but he and his defensive teammates never anticipated the success the Black Knights would have running the same play, over and over, with Carlton Jones rushing for five scores and 207 yards in the second half alone.

"Just one play. I'd be on the back side of the toss, and all I could do was just watch," Kobel said. "Same play. It's basic football, over and over. We really didn't have an answer for it."

Tonight's game at No. 15 Louisville presents a more difficult challenge: try to get the Bulls' reeling defense off the mat in time to contain an offense ranked second in the nation in scoring and third in total yards, with 42.2 points and 504.4 yards per game, respectively.

One thing USF will be better prepared for is the toss sweep, which it drilled repeatedly during Monday's practice. The Cardinals scored on a toss sweep on the second play of last year's game, a 31-28 double-overtime victory for the Bulls.

But Louisville (4-1, 2-0 Conference USA) will bring a balanced offense, led by senior quarterback Stefan LeFors, who ranks second in the nation in pass efficiency. He has thrown for 922 yards and six touchdowns, but more impressive, he has one interception in 90 attempts. USF has one interception all season, tying it for the lowest team total nationally.

The Bulls defense has forced four turnovers in five games, but its first goal is to play a complete game. It held Army to 16 rushing yards before halftime but lost control of the game in the second half.

"Us on the defensive side, we ask to play a game like that where the game is on us," senior safety Javon Camon said. "For us not to step up to the plate, that really hurts because we pride ourselves on that. The same play, and we can't stop it. It was an elementary play, a video game play, but we couldn't stop it."

The Bulls likely will have to stop Louisville's running game first, and that will not be easy. Three Cardinals have at least 250 rushing yards, led by Eric Shelton's 343 and eight touchdowns. Piling up yards against East Carolina or North Carolina is one thing, but Louisville validated its offensive prowess in last week's 41-38 loss at No. 4 Miami, scoring five times against a defense that had allowed one touchdown entering the game.

"They've got the big backs, so they're going to try to run the ball right down our throat. We welcome that," Kobel said.

USF (2-3, 1-2) will be without senior defensive tackle Lee Roy Selmon Jr., a key to the run defense who injured a knee against Army. Coach Jim Leavitt said his defense must do a better job of responding and adjusting during the game if the Bulls are to have any chance at an upset.

"Louisville's very good, we all know that, but we'll just go and bang away and see what happens," said Leavitt, who hopes to avoid USF's first three-game losing streak since September 1997. "Nobody gives us much of a chance in the world at doing anything, and that's pretty normal, across the board. We'll give it a shot, see what we can do."

A win at Louisville would turn the Bulls' season around and resurrect hopes of the program's first bowl appearance. To win would require a nearly complete makeover defensively as USF searches for answers as to what will define it this season.

"We haven't developed an identity yet," said Kobel, who led the Bulls with six sacks last season and has five of the team's 10 this year. "We're definitely missing that identity. Last year we had a dominating defense. In the first half (Saturday), we showed signs of it. We were killing them. They were helpless, looking for any play. They found one weakness, and it shouldn't be a weakness. They shouldn't be able to run like that."

The Bulls defense can police itself, with seniors like Kobel asking teammates to raise their intensity in games and in their commitment during the week preparing for them.

"I'm not going to put up with these guys not working to the same level everyone else is. I need to improve myself, but I've been killing it in the film room, weight room, everything. We've got a lot of young guys on defense this year, and I hope they start to understand the level we're playing at."

The Bulls are 291/2-point underdogs tonight, but they hope to take advantage of that. Last week, USF was a heavy favorite, respectful of its opponent but unable to fathom a loss on its homefield. The Bulls hope Louisville makes the same mistake.

"Nobody expected to lose to Army," Kobel said. "Even though they beat Cincinnati and they were very disciplined and well-coached, their athletic ability was inferior to ours. Our guys have to wake up and realize what talent they have and use it."

[Last modified October 22, 2004, 01:09:27]


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