ND vs. USF: Final questions with Greg Auman

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With kickoff just a few short hours away, I had a chance to catch up with Greg Auman of the St. Petersburg Times and get the scoop. Greg’s been covering the USF Bulls since 2004, so he’s got the beat covered better than anyone.

If you’re looking to get some final cramming on USF so you can impress your friends at the tailgater or game-watch, check out Greg’s stuff here.

KA: How badly do you think Skip Holtz wants to win this game? This isn’t just another Saturday for him, is it?

Skip’s been very careful about framing this game as being much larger for USF than it is for himself, but he’s also been very honest about what an emotional and meaningful game this will be for him personally. There’s a great reverence for Notre Dame — as you probably know, he takes pride in being the first Holtz in South Bend, having gone to Holy Cross for two years so he could get in to Notre Dame, all before his father became head coach. It’s a very special place for him, and I think he as much as anyone recognizes the grand tradition that Notre Dame has and how much it would help his young USF program to win such a game on a huge platform as he has this weekend.

KA: What’s been the biggest change to the USF program since Holtz took it over?

There’s not any one thing you can point to, but the demeanor of the head coach is certainly different. Jim Leavitt built the program from scratch and Holtz has been very consistent in praising him for that, but Leavitt was an intense, driven coach that didn’t care much about anything not directly related to football. I think Holtz has been a bit more public and charismatic as an ambassador for the program — a lot of radio and TV appearances and such — and in doing that has helped make USF a little more approachable for outsiders beyond their core fanbase. I think USF players liked Leavitt very much as well, but there’s a different feel in the building now.

KA: Is there a part of this matchup that has the USF staff confident? What’s USF’s weakness?

Notre Dame doesn’t have a glaring vulnerability, but I think the coaching staff likes the time they’ve been able to spend studying Notre Dame and building a scheme that best suits USF’s personnel. The defense is USF’s stronger, more experienced half, and I think the coaches like the speed they have on defense when it comes to the challenge of containing so many talented skill-position players for Notre Dame. A weakness? The lack of experience on offense as a whole, I would say — the offensive line has three new starters, so that’s probably where they have the least known commodity going into the season.

KA: What’s the blueprint for a USF upset?

You look at the Florida State win in 2009, and it was solid defense and big plays on offense. USF has to play well early so the crowd isn’t a huge factor. B.J. Daniels has to limit (or perhaps eliminate) any turnovers, and the running game has to show up so defenses can’t focus on Daniels too much. If all those things can happen, it’s certainly a game that USF can take advantage of in the final minutes, much the same way they won in overtime at Auburn in 2007 and at Miami last fall.

Special thanks to Greg for his time. Follow him on Twitter @GregAuman