USF-UConn: Keys to the game
3 Keys to Victory EMBRACE YOUTH Injuries have ravaged the Bulls. Starting guards Mark Popek and Danous Estenor are expected to be out. The once-deep receiving corps is down to four or five familiar names. Starting defensive ends Tevin Mims and Ryne Giddins have an uncertain status. It means prominent roles for a handful of freshmen and sophomores. Last week's offensive line, which featured three sophomores and one freshman, helped guide a 369-yard rushing attack against Syracuse. CREATE TURNOVERSUSF's turnover ratio is minus-12. It has one takeaway since Sept. 13. It's the only Football Bowl Subdivision defense (out of 120) without an interception this season. In fact, ESPN research showed of the 652 teams in college football (FBS, FCS, Division II, Division III), only USF and Division III Denison (Ohio) don't have an interception. This has gone beyond bizarre. Bottom line: USF isn't going to win unless it creates turnovers and occasionally plays on a short field. RELAX The program-record six-game losing streak has taken its toll. The job status of Skip Holtz and/or defensive coordinator Chris Cosh has become a huge issue with fans. The Bulls, predicted to contend for the program's first Big East title and a BCS bowl bid, are now just trying to win a game. At this point, everyone is looking around for the next banana peel. It can't really get much worse. Playing pressure-free might work wonders. --- Key matchup USF front seven vs. Connecticut RB Lyle McCombs McCombs was one of the nation's top freshman runners last season with 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns. He had 32 carries for 130 yards in a 16-10 home win against the Bulls. Pass defense remains USF's biggest concern, but it has surrendered 100-yard rushing games to five different backs this season and McCombs is a known quantity. 5 Questions with senior place-kicker Maikon Bonani Q: What are your future plans? A: Of course, I want to make it in the league (NFL). Then I want to do performance enhancement training, like a strength coach or a speed coach. I'm fascinated by the human body and how it works. I'd like to make good athletes even better. Q: What's your earliest athletic memory? A: Being born in Brazil, a soccer ball is a boy's first gift always. I remember my first tournament. We went out of town on a bus without my parents. It was about a five-hour ride. I think I was 8. I was the goalkeeper. We went to penalty kicks and I stopped a couple of PKs. My medal is still at my grandparents' house in Brazil. Q: Are Brazilian steakhouses actually an American creation or can you find them in Brazil? A: They're pretty authentic. I highly recommend them. You won't find the variety of steaks here. Back in Brazil, there may be 50 different cuts that you get offered. It's ridiculous. Q: You've had a few opportunities for game-winning field goals. What is that like? A: Your heart is pounding. I'm always a little nervous, but nervous is good. It helps you focus more. I embrace the feeling. I cherish the opportunity. When you score, you help the team win. But if they told me I wouldn't make any field goals if my team was guaranteed the win, I'd always take the win. Q: What's something people may not know about you? A: I love playing tennis. I won districts and went to state a few times (at Lake Wales High School). I'm a baseliner, one-handed backhand, pretty shifty. I follow the ATP Tour pretty closely. My favorite all-time athlete is Roger Federer and I would love to meet him someday. Hear more from Maikon Bonani during "The Skip Holtz Show,'' presented by The Tampa Tribune, Sunday morning at 11:30 on NewsChannel 8. --- The Vibe MISSING LAMAR The likely season-ending fractured clavicle injury to RB Lindsey Lamar, after consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, has shaken up the Bulls. Marcus Shaw, who now gets more carries as he shares backfield duty with Demetris Murray, said he was "devastated'' by the injury and called Lamar "my favorite player on the whole team.'' Lamar had developed into the team's most dangerous offensive weapon. His absence is more adversity USF must overcome. UCONN HEARTBREAK There was 2005, a 15-10 loss that featured USF's failed gadget play ("Voodoo Five'') near the goal line and stopped the Bulls from playing for the Big East title. There was 2007, a 22-15 defeat two weeks after USF was ranked No. 2 nationally. There was 2009, a 29-27 loss in the snow, clinched on Dave Teggart's final-play 42-yard field goal. And there was 2010, a 19-16 deflation, when Teggart (again) boomed a 52-yard field goal with 17 seconds to play. BOWLED OVER It's unrealistic to think USF can suddenly go on a four-game winning streak to become bowl eligible – UConn, at Miami, at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh – but that's what it will take for the Bulls to reach the postseason. "Everyone is aware of where we are,'' Holtz said. "We have to win out to go to a bowl game, something we would very much like to do, especially for our seniors.'' The Pick Johnston's pick USF, 24-23 This could be USF's last best chance. UConn's status as the nation's 10th-ranked defensive team is tempered considering its last game: Syracuse 40, UConn 10, with the Orange rolling up 502 yards. If USF's defeat against Syracuse was rock bottom, then there's nowhere to go but up. Want more incentive? If USF loses here, it's a seven-game losing streak going into a bye week. That would be rock bottom. Somehow, the Bulls must get this done.