TAMPA — They have distinguished themselves for four years, though the talk this month has been overwhelmingly of their current four losses.
Twenty-one seniors will be honored tonight as they play their final home game for USF against Connecticut, and there's a real urgency to stop a three-game skid and give those seniors a better memory of their last time at Raymond James Stadium.
"We need to go out and play well for them," said junior quarterback Matt Grothe, who was limited in practice last week by a sprained ankle. "I know they'll come out ready to play, because it's their last time. I know we'll be fired up. We just have to stay away from some of the stuff we haven't been able to stay away from the last couple of weeks."
That stuff to stay away from includes turnovers — six in last week's 49-16 loss to Rutgers — and an inability to stop opposing offenses, especially late in games. USF has been outscored in the fourth quarter seven times this year, including a 21-0 combined margin in the past two losses.
Some seniors honored tonight, such as safety Danny Verpaele and linebacker Brouce Mompremier, have been missing from that defense the past two games because of injuries. Mompremier said he has felt his teammates' frustration from the sideline, but was surprised to see a lack of fight late in the loss to Rutgers.
"I can almost pinpoint the moment when guys just started to lay down," Mompremier said. "I feel like some guys kind of gave up. I'm not sure why. I'm guessing it's just frustration, things not going right. You've got guys going 100 miles an hour, just doing everything they can and not seeing any results."
Playing their final home game should bring more emotion from USF's seniors, who are bunched at key positions on the field. The offensive line has four senior starters — tackles Ryan Schmidt and Marc Dile, guard Matt Huners and center Jake Griffin — and might have to block for another senior, backup quarterback Grant Gregory, who would step in if Grothe cannot play.
Whether it's Grothe or Gregory, the Bulls need a mobile quarterback against the Huskies. Two years ago, Grothe rushed for three touchdowns in a 38-16 win in Tampa, and in last year's 22-15 loss Grothe rushed for a career-high 146 yards and the Bulls' only touchdown.
The defense has its share of senior starters: linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, safeties Carlton Williams and Louis Gachette and end Jarriett Buie. Plus junior George Selvie, an All-American last season projected as a potential first-round NFL draft pick, could also be playing his final home game.
A win would assure the seniors — and all the Bulls — of the right to play a fourth bowl in as many years. USF is bowl-eligible with six wins, but a loss tonight and one in two weeks at West Virginia could leave the Bulls without a Big East-affiliated bowl. That could lead to an obscure bowl berth as an at-large team, or perhaps ending with nothing but a five-game losing streak.
"We just want to win. We want to go out and win a game," Grothe said. "It's been a few weeks since we have. We need one more win to go to a bowl. We will worry about West Virginia when West Virginia comes. This week we are just worried about getting that one more win to get us over the hump. We need to get out of the hole."