TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—Skip Holtz is eager to learn how South Florida responds to a taste of success in the limelight.
The 22nd-ranked Bulls moved into the Top 25 for the first time under their second-year coach following last week’s 23-20 road win at previously No. 16 Notre Dame.
It’s not uncharted territory for USF (1-0), which has drifted in and out of the rankings in recent seasons. Still, Holtz is interested to see how his players handle the attention that accompanied going into South Bend, Ind., and leaving with a victory over such a high-profile opponent.
“What I’ve seen out of this football team, with the focus and determination, I’m excited,” Holtz said.
“Things don’t get easier with us having Ball State this week. I think Pete Lembo has done a fantastic job of building confidence,” Holtz said of the former Lehigh and Elon coach, who’s in his first season at the Mid-American Conference school. “He’s won everywhere he’s been. You can see his team is playing with confidence and playing with energy. They just beat Indiana in a game nobody gave them a shot at. It wasn’t a fluke. They went out and just lined up and beat them.”
Lembo feels the same way about what South Florida did to Notre Dame, even though the Bulls allowed 508 yards total offense. USF prevailed by forcing five turnovers, three of them inside its 20-yard line.
“That is not a fluke,” Lembo said of the Bulls’ successful jaunt into South Bend. “I talked with the team about the need to move on. As soon as we turned on film of South Florida, it was easy to move on.”
Kayvon Webster scored on a 96-yard fumble return and B.J. Daniels threw for 128 yards and a touchdown for the Bulls, who also got three field goals from Maikon Bonani.
Sterling Griffin had eight receptions for 75 yards, but the Bulls did not have a lot success running the ball. Demetri Murray led the team with 40 yards rushing on 14 attempts.
“I’m very impressed with South Florida,” Lembo said. “They are in the Big East what we would like to become in the MAC, which is very talented and very experienced.”
Ball State, which knocked off Indiana in a neutral-site game played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, is playing for the second straight week in the home of a NFL team.
Holtz said winning against a BCS conference opponent at the home of the Indianapolis Colts ensures the Cardinals will arrive at Raymond James Stadium feeling confident.
“When you look at it, they went in and played extremely well. They went in and took it,” the USF coach said. “They didn’t go and just play it safe. They went in and took it. I think they’re going to come in here with the same battle cry we went into South Bend with—great challenge, but pheonmenal opportunity for us not only to beat a Big 10 team, but also a Big East team.”
Holtz believes his players understand they can’t avoid to overlook anyone.
“I don’t worry about a letdown, but we’ll have to play well,” Holtz said. “I don’t know if I could have written a better script, than we didn’t play very well and still found a way to win. If we had gone out clicking on all cylinders and won the game, maybe it would have been a little harder getting their attention this week. With Ball State lining up and beating Indiana the way they did, the players are pretty dialed in.”