On a team loaded with seniors and multi-year starters, USF might be best positioned for the future at offensive line, where three sophomores are in the starting five. The negative with such youth at a key position is the present, as was seen in Thursday's loss to Rutgers, when Bulls C Austin Reiter and LT Darrell Williams made their first Big East starts.
"There was an awful lot of pressure on (QB) B.J. (Daniels), pressure that should not have been there," coach Skip Holtz said. "I think there were some concerns brought up in that game. Is everybody ready for this level? Is everybody for the full-speed actions of the game, especially when you have guys like Mark Popek and (backup) Damien Edwards, two guys that are both seniors and have played a little football for you. We've got to look at what is the right mix right now."
USF took a gamble in preseason, moving Popek, a returning starter at left tackle, inside to left guard to give Williams the left tackle job. Williams missed the opener with an ankle injury, so Thursday was his second start.
Offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler said Tuesday a little competition in practice this week won't hurt the line; he has been pleased with how his players have responded since the loss.
"The first thing we have to do is keep our composure," Shankweiler said. "We have to play within the system, and not chase ghosts. I had a couple of young guys out there and things went fast. I didn't do a very good job of helping them. I can do better as a coach. We saw it on film, we know what we need to fix, and we'll get it done."
The ghost-chasing that Shankweiler mentioned comes from Rutgers' pre-snap misdirection, something USF addressed before the game. USF didn't give up a sack, but the pressure at the line of scrimmage took away the Bulls' running game and left Daniels constantly on the move to avoid sacks.
Holtz said one thing coaches can't know about young players is how they'll handle in-game adversities the first time they face them on a big stage.
"How are they going to respond when the lights go on and things go against them and they get hit in the mouth? How do you compete then as an 18-year-old young man?" Holtz said. "You don't ever know how they're going to respond to it. It wasn't probably the turnout we wanted, but we have to take where we are and go from here. We learned a lot about our football team Thursday."
Holtz said Saturday's opponent, Ball State, looked a lot like Rutgers defensively in the second half of its win against Indiana, which means the Bulls could be facing more of the same on Saturday in Muncie.
"Whatever you don't handle, offensively or defensively, if there was a pass play they ran five times and they were 5-for-5, you'd better get it corrected, 'cause you're going to see it next week," Holtz said. "Whether they have it in or not, they're about to put it in. I don't think it's a bad thing. What Rutgers did, Ball State runs a lot of the same things, so I'm sure we'll see a lot of that. If you step up, pick it up and protect it, and hit the open receiver, it'll go away and you won't see it again. If you don't, it's going to keep coming."
THIS AND THAT: The volleyball team, finding its rhythm under first-year coach Courtney Draper, took a five-match win streak into Tuesday's game against Florida Gulf Coast, giving a dose of momentum as the Big East season opens this weekend at Seton Hall and Rutgers. … Don't expect single-game tickets for next week's FSU game to be sold to the general public. The game will be USF's first sellout in five years, with tickets going for $120 and more on the secondary markets. The easiest way to get into the game is by buying season tickets, which continue to sell even after two of the Bulls' six home games have been played.