ND vs. USF: Final questions with Greg Auman


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

That’s what he said: Skip Holtz


The head coach of the South Florida Bulls addressed the media today to discuss Notre Dame.

Here’s what he said:

Opponent preview: South Florida


This is the first of twelve opponent previews, profiling Notre Dame’s 2011 opponents. Get ready for a heavy dose of reading as we lead into the September.

The Overview:

The season opener won’t be shy on storylines when Notre Dame welcomes South Florida to South Bend for the first time in the program’s history. With former Irish player and coach Skip Holtz on the sidelines for the Bulls, even casual followers will take notice as Dr. Lou‘s son gets his first chance to lead a team against the family’s favorite team. USF is building off some late season momentum, as the Bulls won five of their last seven games in 2010, capping the season with a bowl victory over Clemson. A Big East darkhorse, Holtz will need to get more from an offense that struggled, while riding a defense that was one of the top 25 in the country last season.

Last time against the Irish:

This is the first time South Florida has played Notre Dame.

Degree of Difficulty:

Of the 12 games the Irish play this season, I’ve got South Florida ranked as the seventh toughest opponent on the 2011 slate.

The Match-up:

Athletically, B.J. Daniels is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks the Irish will face this year. It’ll be up to Holtz and offensive coordinator Todd Fitch to help Daniels assimilate into the offense better than he did last year, a step back statistically for the redshirt junior. Helping make Daniels more comfortable will be a running game anchored by Demetris Murray and transfer Darrell Scott, the former all-everything five-star recruit who failed to make an impact at Colorado. Auburn transfer Dontae Aycock, who looked like a another power option, walked away from the team in fall camp, making depth in the backfield a question mark, to go along with an offensive line that needs to replace three starters, including two-time All-Big East center Sampson Genus. The passing game will rely on A.J. Love‘s recovery from a torn ACL as well as converted quarterback Evan Landi, the team’s leading returning receiver. Diminutive Lindsey Lamar was the Big East’s special teams player of the year, and will likely spend more time with the offense.

Defensively, the Bulls will need to replace Terrell McClain, an All-Big East defensive tackle that went in the third round of the NFL Draft. They’ll try to do it with speed, as linebackers DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington return, as do a plethora of defensive ends with pass rush ability, led by sophomore Ryan Giddins. Anchoring the secondary will be safety Jerrell Young, with upperclassmen Quenton Washington and Kayvon Webster starting at cornerback. Coordinating the unit will be former Marshall head coach Mark Snyder, who spent a long time with former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel at both Ohio State and Youngstown State.

How the Irish will win:

With the Bulls breaking in a new offensive line and the Irish stout against the run, Notre Dame will use the same blueprint they did against Miami, confounding an athletic quarterback and forcing him to make a few big mistakes through the air. If the Irish can jump out front with a few quick scores, forcing USF into a one-dimensional offensive attack doesn’t bode well for Skip Holtz’s squad. Behind a strong defensive performance, and a balanced offensive performance, the Irish should be able to coast to an easy victory.

How the Irish will lose:

It isn’t hard to imagine Skip Holtz getting his team awfully fired up to play in Notre Dame Stadium and awaken a program that many think is a sleeping giant. Special teams ace Lindsey Lamar could break something open in the return game and quarterback B.J. Daniels has the legs to make it a very long day for the Irish defense. The Bulls have speed to burn on defense and if they force the Irish into passing situations they’ll be able to disrupt an Irish offense that needs balance to be successful. If Holtz and the Bulls get off to a quick start, they could shock the Irish, springboarding USF to a season that could end with a BCS appearance.

Gut Feeling:

The wise guys in Las Vegas have Notre Dame a little bit more than a ten-point favorite. That feels about right to me, with the Irish showing a far more explosive offense on opening day than they showed throughout all of 2010.