Tampa, FL – Ball State and South Florida will clash on the time ever when the Bulls host the Cardinals at Raymond James Stadium.
Ball State made a winner out of Pete Lembo in his debut with the team, as the Cardinals pulled off a moderately shocking 27-20 victory over the Indiana Hoosiers in the opener. Since posting a 12-2 ledger in 2008, the Cardinals have claimed just six wins over the last two seasons, and that includes four during the 2010 campaign.
It took longer than expected, but the Bulls were finally able to send the 16th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish into the loss column with a 23-20 decision in South Bend. The game was delayed twice due to weather and the total time the two teams had to wait to get back on the field was nearly three hours. It was an impressive win for South Florida, and more importantly Skip Holtz, who played and coached at Notre Dame. With the win, USF jumped into the top-25 this week at number 22.
Despite the upset win in South Bend, Holtz wasn't exactly pleased with his team's performance.
"I think this football team was disappointed in the way that we played because we did make a lot of mistakes on both sides of the ball and we can definitely play better. If that's that level that we want to compete at, we're going to have to turn and improve this week."
Keith Wenning showed signs of promise last year, but the quarterback also made plenty of mistakes. A sign of maturing, the signal-caller looked sharp in the season-opener.
The sophomore completed 23-of-29 passes against Indiana, and finished the game with 173 yards and two touchdown passes. The more important number was the zero Wenning posted in the interception column. Coach Lembo would love to see that in every game, especially since Wenning tossed 14 a year ago.
Wenning also added 61 yards and one touchdown on the ground for Ball State, which as a whole gashed Indiana for 210 yards on 4.6 yards per carry. The Cardinals have been successful in that area over the past four seasons, and while they do not have a workhorse, the team possesses two dangerous players in Barrington Scott and Jahwan Edwards.
Scott started the game against Indiana and will also start this Saturday. Against the Hoosiers he finished with 63 yards, which was second best behind the 84 yards Edwards gained on 16 totes.
Not much went right for the Cardinals on the defensive side of the football last year, but coach Lembo spent a large part of spring practice trying to improve this unit at each level and so far the hard work seems to have paid off.
The Cardinals, which surrendered over 30 ppg last season, held the Hoosiers to just 20 points and a large reason for the success was due to the team's performance against the run. Ball State was pounded for 178 yards per game on the ground last year, but in the win over the Hoosiers, this defense limited Indiana to just 103 yards on 3.2 ypc.
It wasn't a flawless effort though, as the Cardinals were torched for 272 yards, and that could pose a problem throughout the season. Stopping the pass was a problem in 2010, and could be the Achilles' heel for BSU this campaign. Ball State did slow down Indiana's passing game with four sacks, two of which were collected by Nathan Ollie.
It is always important to open the year with a victory, so South Florida should be happy to do so, especially against a ranked team on its field. However, the Bulls should not get too excited because there are plenty of issues with the offensive unit, which total just 254 yards and relied heavily on the performance of the defense.
The Bulls were mediocre at best in 2010, and while the team was victorious in week one the play of the offense did not leave coach Holtz with a smile on his face. B.J. Daniels threw for just 128 yards and one touchdown on 18-of-30 passing. Those are clearly not overwhelming numbers, but the signal caller did manage the game well.
As for the rushing attack, the Bulls could only muster 3.0 yards per carry. Sure, the team racked up 126 yards, but that came on 42 attempts and the team's second leading rusher was Daniels who finished with 37 yards. The top back, Demetri Murray had only three more yards than the quarterback and he had 14 carries.
While the offense played as if it was still trying to work out some kinks, the defense performed as if it was in mid-season form. The Bulls collected five turnovers, including a fumble recovery by Kayvon Webster that was returned 96 yards for a score. That play occurred as Notre Dame moved the ball downfield on its first possession, and instead of falling behind the Irish, that turnover gave the Bulls the lead and all the momentum.
Over the past couple of seasons the Bulls have rode the coat tails of the defense and that was the case in week one. South Florida held Notre Dame to just 117 rushing yards in the contest. The Irish were however, able to torch the USF secondary for 296 yards and two touchdowns.
It was surprising considering the Bulls are usually one of the better teams in terms of pass defense a year ago. Michael Lanaris had a strong game though finishing with 10 tackles, to go along with one of the team's three interceptions.