After two impressive ACC wins, Florida State heads out of conference once again for its first road test of the season, though the Seminoles won't go too far from home.
FSU travels to Tampa for the first time in more than 30 years, and four years after one of the most memorable upsets in the program's history, the Seminoles get another crack at B.J. Daniels and USF.
To get the lowdown on the Bulls and how they're preparing to handle FSU, we checked in with Tampa Bay Times beat writer Greg Auman.
NoleNation: The win in 2009 seemed like a coming-out party for Daniels, but aside from a handful of highlights here and there, he never seemed to really build on that promise. What has held him back, and what is his frame of mind heading into this game?
Greg Auman: Daniels had a great first college start, beating FSU in his hometown. He's on pace to be the Big East's all-time leader in total offense, but I think his legacy is limited because he hasn't been able to lead USF to a Big East title -- or really come close to one. He did a great job of lowering his turnovers last year, got some of his running threat back. A game like this is another chance for him to pull off a big upset -- but for USF to keep up with FSU, he has to play well, throwing and running the ball, with zero turnovers. As far as his mindset, he's a very confident player, so while he has a great respect for the defense he's facing, I think he's looking forward to a challenge like this.
NN: Beyond Daniels, there's not a ton of carryover on either team from that 2009 game. At FSU, there seems to be a concerted effort not to look back at that loss for motivation. Is the same true at USF, or are players and coaches pointing to that game as proof of what's possible?
Auman: USF has 12 players who should play Saturday and played in the 2009 game -- Daniels is obviously the biggest one, but Sam Barrington had four tackles in the '09 game and Jon Lejiste had two tackles and the big forced fumble on a hit that really set the tone for the game. Not a lot of references to the 2009 win, but I think they'll use that as motivation, not even so much for the outcome, but for the energy they had on defense that day. USF's defensive line was all over Christian Ponder that day -- it was arguably Jason Pierre-Paul's first big splash. They need pressure and turnovers from their defense if USF wants to stay in this game.
NN: A lot of FSU's success this season has come at the line of scrimmage -- from the huge running lanes opened on offense to the fearsome pass rush on defense. How are USF's lines equipped to handle the Seminoles in the trenches?
Auman: This is probably the biggest question mark. USF's defensive line has been a major disappointment through four games -- no tackles for loss in 71 plays against Ball State, and the starting four defensive linemen have combined -- combined -- for 3.5 tackles for loss in four games. They've faced some veteran offensive lines, but nothing as solid as what FSU will bring. And I think of defensive line as being FSU's strength, especially with depth, so USF's offensive line might have the biggest challenge of any position for the Bulls. They tweaked their lineup to put last year's starting left tackle back in his old spot, so I think that will help from a poise standpoint. That may be the biggest position battle as I see it.
NN: Skip Holtz wasn't around for that big win in Tallahassee in 2009, and things certainly haven't looked quite so promising at USF since his arrival, including seven straight home losses to schools from AQ conferences. What's the mood down there surrounding Holtz, and what might a good showing this week -- even if not a win -- do for him?
Auman: There's definitely a sense of disappointment over a 2-2 start when most fans were hoping for 4-0 entering this game. The losses have been close on the scoreboard, but USF hasn't looked good at all defensively. Holtz just got an extension over the summer, so there's really very little threat of him losing his job this year regardless of USF's record. He has lost much of the momentum the program had a year ago, opening the year with the win at Notre Dame. Not much has gone right for the Bulls since then.
NN: What do you think are the two or three biggest keys to the Bulls keeping this game competitive, and is there any chance at another upset like the one they pulled four years ago?
Auman: First and foremost, USF has to force turnovers. Multiple turnovers, and that hasn't been a strength for the Bulls. Their defense has to show up in a way it really hasn't shown up this season -- making stops on third downs, forcing turnovers, game-changing type things like that. FSU seems to have an edge on special teams as well, so USF has to at least neutralize that. And for the offense to click, USF has to be able to move the ball with a traditional running game, so the defense can't key on Daniels alone. FSU is much better than the team USF beat in 2009, so an upset would require not only the Bulls playing at their best, but FSU helping with mistakes as well.