Few positions on USF's football team have more experience or senior leadership than the offensive line, and senior tackle Jake Sims said the line is taking responsibility for the team's offensive struggles in two Big East losses.
"It's tough to have two in a row not scoring a touchdown. That's real tough, especially for the O-line," Sims said as the Bulls wrapped up preparation for tonight's game at Cincinnati. "As an O-line, we feel like that needs to be our responsibility. We need to take that on our shoulders. What, 400 yards of offense in two games, is production that we can't accept on the O-line."
Sims said the line wants to show a different offense against the Bearcats, one with more consistency and fewer mistakes than what USF has had in a 13-9 loss to Syracuse and a 20-6 loss at West Virginia.
"We have to go up there and show our coaches and our fans and ourselves that we can move the ball, move the chains, and most important, that we can score," said Sims, the starting right tackle.
The line is a veteran unit with a core group that has worked together for four years — Sims, senior center Sampson Genus and junior guards Jeremiah Warren and Chaz Hine — with senior tackle Jamar Bass, a junior college transfer, and sophomores Mark Popek and Danous Estenor as relative newcomers in the primary rotation of seven linemen.
"Me and Sampson have been playing together — our first game was the same first game, North Carolina back in '07," Sims said. "And me and Bass go back to high school. We've talked between the three of us, and we need to go up and lead this thing. And Chaz and Jeremiah, they might as well be seniors they've been with us so long."
Playing Cincinnati reminds Sims how much playing at USF means for him — as a high school senior in Winter Park, he had a scholarship offer from then-Bearcats coach Mark Dantonio, but he chose to walk on at USF. After two years, he earned a scholarship from then-coach Jim Leavitt and has now started 25 games over the past three seasons.
"(Cincinnati) is in the back of my mind, but I've been up there before," Sims said. "I'm more about the scoring the last two weeks. That's what I'm more focused on."
After Sunday's practice, coach Skip Holtz talked to his team about the need for greater focus and commitment in every practice. When he was done, Genus stepped up to address the team as USF's lone captain on offense. Holtz is still seeking leadership on the offensive side of the ball.
"Sampson Genus has grabbed this team a couple of times, and I think this team has great respect for Sampson Genus," Holtz said. "When you look at the stability that we have on the defensive side of the ball right now, their leadership is really showing up big-time. At the skill positions, you have (senior Dontavia) Bogan, who wasn't out there for about three weeks, you have a young quarterback. Your senior experience is up on the offensive line. I don't think we have that. Sampson would be the closest thing right now, but it's hard for a lineman to lead the skill players, because he's not with them all the time."
A win would give USF a much-needed shot of momentum, and Sims said he's seeing signs that this could be the week the Bulls start getting things moving in a positive way.
"We've had a lot of urgency in practice," he said. "We realize that. We're working hard. We're grinding out there, and our scout team's giving us a real good look. We might have 10 guys do well (on a play) and have one guy not, so we're trying to get rid of that. We're trying to have 11 working on offense. I've seen us take onus of that and try to get better this week."