Wally Burnham insists there isn't a secret recipe.
Sure, his USF defense has shut down West Virginia's prolific rushing game like no other team could, leading the Bulls to huge upsets the past two seasons.
Other coaches came to Tampa to learn his tricks, and Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart has given Burnham credit for at least three other losses he has taken this year.
Burnham doesn't like being called a defensive guru, and as the Bulls head to Morgantown today trying to upset West Virginia for a third year in a row, he said his defensive strategy has been a simple one.
"There's nothing to it. It's option defense," Burnham said. "What happened was a lot of people didn't think it was option, because of the alignments and what they were doing. They run a zone blocking scheme with option football. It was different, and you had to sit down and draw on old-school football."
Funny thing is, one of the coaches who helped Burnham figure out how to stop an option attack was Stewart.
When Burnham was linebackers coach at Florida State, he sought ways to stop Nebraska's running game. He visited Air Force, which ran the option and had Stewart as an offensive assistant.
"I learned something up there from them," he said. "I stayed up there three or four days and we exchanged ideas. People come here, we go other places to share thoughts."
Can Burnham's defense again stop quarterback Pat White, the Big East's all-time leader in total offense, in his final home game, with sub-freezing temperatures (31 degrees and snow showers) forecast at kickoff for the first time in USF history? The key, he says, is "assignment football," convincing his players to trust the scheme and not try to make plays on their own.
To counter the misdirection of West Virginia's spread offense, to guard against the instinct to swarm to the ballcarrier, USF's defense doesn't practice with a ball when preparing for the Mountaineers. The idea is to stop everyone, and that will hopefully include the guy with the ball.
"Everybody's got somebody. You have to make your assignment, make your play," defensive end George Selvie said. "(At first) I didn't know what was going on, but I finally figured it out: He could have (pitched) the ball, or he could have run it himself."
In practice this week, first-year defensive line coach Kevin Patrick got on Selvie during a play: "George, get to the ball!" The junior had to remind the coach his responsibility wasn't the quarterback, but the running back he might pitch to. The stakes are higher against a speed team like West Virginia, where one missed tackle or one botched assignment can mean a long touchdown.
As much as they hear about the past two wins, the Bulls still remember 2005, when White broke open a close game in the second half with touchdown runs of 65 and 76 yards in a 28-13 win.
"If you let him get a big play, he gets more confidence as he goes," Selvie said. "He's going to get hyped, start celebrating. He's a big-play type of guy, and if you let him, he's really going to hurt you."
USF was able to play its aggressive defense against the run the last two times because it could put cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams in one-on-one coverage. They're with NFL teams, so their replacements, junior Jerome Murphy and senior Tyller Roberts, have to hold their own against West Virginia's receivers.
"Our corners are going to have to do a great job," Burnham said. "They'll probably try to throw it more on us this year. But (White) is the whole deal. They've got (running backs) Noel Devine, Jock Sanders, great football players, speedy guys, but the No. 1 job we have to do is stop No. 5."
The Bulls have held White in check amazingly well — he had 17 yards on 15 carries in Morgantown two years ago and had 36 last year before being knocked out of the game late in the first half.
Keeping up with him is challenge enough to make the Bulls even change their diet.
"One of the things you have to game-plan for as a player is to cut down on extra meals during the week you're playing West Virginia," linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said. "You're going to be running the entire game."
Win or lose, the Bulls are all but assured of coming back home to play in the inaugural St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 20 at Tropicana Field. The bowl's executive director, Brett Dulaney, will attend tonight, according to bowl publicist Rob Sumner.