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Bulls O-line has sacks on its mind

For USF's offensive line, it was a glaring number, one the Bulls never had come close to before and haven't gone near since.

Ten sacks.

Texas Christian took down USF quarterbacks 10 times in last year's 13-10 win, which in turn took down the Bulls' 21-game home winning streak. The record for sacks allowed was six, and no team has managed more than four since then.

It's a game the Bulls' offensive line would rather forget. All five starting linemen, including four-year starters Alex Herron and Derrick Sarosi, offensive co-captains and two of USF's most outspoken players, declined media requests to be interviewed this week.

"TCU really destroyed us last year, to say the least," coach Jim Leavitt said. "We didn't do too much of anything right offensively last year against them. They're very good and certainly we struggled quite a bit. You don't want to give up 10 sacks often. That's a lot of sacks. It's a tough one to go through."

The game is now as remarkable for the way USF's offensive line has played since. The Bulls have allowed a total of 14 sacks in the eight games since.

"I'd like to say they kept battling and responded obviously to a bad day," offensive line coach Greg Frey said. "Hopefully we can continue to keep working on that."

The linemen may not be talking this week, but their words in the wake of their Oct. 10 performance show the frustration and demoralization of their first home loss. Asked if he thought any defense could do what TCU did, Herron said: "Never in my life. One-hundred-twenty-six yards? That's unbelievable. It feels terrible. That's the only way to describe it."

USF's entire line returns from that game, and the current alignment _ Sarosi at left tackle, junior Frank Davis at left guard, Herron at center, junior Chris Carothers at right guard and senior Levi Newton at right tackle _ is one the Bulls shifted to during the TCU game. The continuity of their experience, with a combined 122 starts, was thought to be a team strength entering the season, and that hasn't changed.

They have been a relative bright spot in a disappointing 1-1 start, allowing one sack in each game and keeping pressure off quarterbacks Pat Julmiste and Ronnie Banks. Continuing that success is a key to giving the Bulls a chance to win their Conference USA opener, and an opportunity for the line to show how far it has come in the past year.

"These kids take a lot of pride in what they do," Frey said. "TCU was an excellent defense, had a couple of draft picks off the front line, and to be honest, this year they're as good. We're looking forward to playing them."

In truth, the Horned Frogs are a decent leap from the defenses that led the nation in 2000 and 2002, or even the squad that came into Tampa ranked 15th and leading C-USA last year. All four starters from last year's defensive line are gone, taking 100 career starts with them, and three of the four replacements hadn't started a game before this season.

TCU's relentless rush last year was more than four down linemen, however. The Horned Frogs run a 4-2-5 defense, confusing offenses with a barrage of stunts and blitzes. Martin Patterson, TCU's strongside linebacker, had 1.5 sacks against USF, and strong safety Flander Malone had one. As a result, pass protection must also rely on backs and tight ends picking up blitzing defenders.

"It wasn't just a four-man rush. We threw in a lot of blitzes and we just got fortunate," coach Gary Patterson said. "I don't think they'd seen anything like that, and I'm sure they'll be prepared for it this time."

The TCU defense came into USF hot last year, having allowed 27 points in its previous four games. This week is the opposite, as TCU was lit up for 70 points in a loss to Texas Tech last weekend, a game in which TCU led 21-0 before its defense gave up touchdowns on eight of nine possessions. The Horned Frogs enter Saturday's game ranked 103rd in total defense out of 117 Division I-A schools, but the Bulls don't need to be reminded of what TCU is capable of doing.

"You can obviously see how good they've been in the past, and it seems that they're not missing any steps this year either," Frey said. "Our effort has been good, the fundamentals have been up and down. We're still making some mistakes that we hopefully will get corrected. They're trying hard, and this means a lot to them."

GETTING UP OFF THE TURF

Since giving up a school-record 10 sacks to Texas Christian last year, USF's offensive line has clamped down on opposing defenses, allowing a total of 14 sacks in the eight games since:

2003 SEASON

10/10 Texas Christian 10

10/18 Charleston So. 1

10/25 So. Miss 2

10/31 Cincy 3

11/8 East Carolina 1

11/22 UAB 1

11/29 Memphis 4

2004 SEASON

9/11 Tennessee Tech 1

9/18 South Carolina 1

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