Bulls Take On Tide Today In Front Of A Full Stadium And National Audience On ABC

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Joey Johnston

Athletics Senior Writergousfbulls.com – For all the latest USF Bulls news on all sports and video highlights check out the site.

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USF (1-1; 0-0 American)vs. #10/10 Alabama (1-1; 0-0 SEC)
Saturday, Sept. 16 • 3:30 P.M. •  Raymond James Stadium (65,000) • Tampa, Fla.

SURFACE: Bermuda Natural Grass
TV: ABC: Bob Wischusen (PXP), Robert Griffin III (Analyst) & Kris Budden (sideline)
AUDIO: 102.5 FM & HD 2/TuneIn – Bulls Unlimited
SERIES: Alabama leads, 1-0
IN TAMPA: First Meeting
IN TUSCALOOSA: Alabama leads, 1-0
LAST TIME: ALA won, 40-17, 1st game of 2003 season
VS SEC TEAMS: 1
VS.RANKED: 11-36; Lost last 14; 
        Last win: 52-45 vs. 22 Navy 10/28/2016
        Home: 7-19, last win, vs. 22 Navy 10/28/2016
USF GAME NOTES

It’s a big occasion. Nobody can deny that. It’s a top 10-ranked opponent, an iconic college-football program, ABC national television and an expected packed house at Raymond James Stadium.

Although it seems crazy to call it another game on the schedule, USF coach Alex Golesh said he prefers to keep things as normal as possible while preparing his Bulls (1-1) for Saturday afternoon’s home clash against the No. 10-ranked and SEC powerhouse Alabama Crimson Tide (1-1).

“I think our guys are aware of who we’re playing,” Golesh said Tuesday. “I think they know who’s favored to win. In terms of environment, it should be a really cool game.

“But a challenge? Yeah, I think they’re all a challenge. We’ve won four games in three-and-a-half years. I’d say they’re all a challenge. That’s what we’re trying to change, relying on something other than a hope and a prayer. You’ve got to rely on a foundation.”

Or, as Golesh puts it, a “process.”

In Golesh’s world, the Bulls’ preparation for Alabama will mirror what they did in readying for Western Kentucky or Florida A&M.

“Alabama is Alabama, right?” Golesh said. “They’ve won six national titles (from 2009-20). Those guys know how to win. They know how to work. They’ve got good football coaches and really good players. … They’re a top 10 preseason football team, so where do we measure up there? We’ve got to strap up, line up against another man and go at it for three-and-a-half hours, whacking heads. That’s what it is. You’ve got to scheme the right way, execute, protect the quarterback and tackle in space. Like, it’s no different, no matter who we’re playing.

“That’s why I’m not a giant fan of all the David and Goliath (analogies). It’s another test for us as we lay the foundation. We’ll get evaluated on the results (after the season). For me, our process is the most important thing. That’s the part our guys are still learning. We don’t control the end result of the game this week. We control what Tuesday practice looks like. We control how we show up in the morning. Saturday will be a byproduct of what the week is. That’s how it rolls.

“Our guys are slowly understanding that. You’re taking a program that hasn’t had (recent) success in terms of wins and losses. You’re bringing in a whole bunch of new people. You’re blowing the entire thing up and you’re saying this is how it’s going to be and holding people to that standard. So, you’re going to see ebbs and flows. I’ve been really proud of the effort. The end result will be a direct reflection of what this week looks like.”

USF players have bought into Golesh’s philosophy, but they are also embracing the obvious excitement of Alabama’s arrival in Tampa (USF will go to Tuscaloosa in 2024 and 2026 as part of the two-for-one contract).

“You can definitely feel the buzz because it’s not common to have a team like Alabama coming in to play you in your home stadium,” offensive tackle Donovan Jennings said.

Indeed, it’s only Alabama’s fourth true non-conference road game in 17 seasons under Coach Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide won the other three — 20-19 at Texas (2022), 27-11 at Penn State (in 2011) and 62-13 at Duke (2010).

“It’s definitely about not getting too high, not getting too low, staying even-keel and respecting your opponent,” Jennings said. “Never get too big for the moment. Never let it overcome you. Because the moment you let it overcome you, that’s when you start worrying about other outside factors. If we just lock in on us and be us, we’re going to be just fine.”

Jennings said he gained perspective from USF’s 2021 home game against the Florida Gators. He said he initially looked at the uniform — instead of considering the Gators as another faceless opponent — and that affected his play. It was a good learning experience.

“We just need to stick to our process and keep our heads straight, just worry about what we can do,” linebacker Jhalyn Shuler said. “Not everybody gets this opportunity — big-time opponent, big national TV, 60,000 (plus) people. I’m happy whoever made this schedule did not turn down this opportunity because our team can get more exposure and put our names out there a little more on the big stage.”

Golesh acknowledged that emotion will be part of the game, but said it should be part of every game.

“You want to keep the same form so that consistency in their preparation is exactly the same … there is no difference,” Golesh said. “You don’t ever get up or get down. You stay exactly the same, which is (being) ready at all times. I want to see up play really, really hard. I want to see us execute at a high clip. It’s about consistency.”

Speaking of consistency, outside of his first season at Alabama (2007), Saban’s Crimson Tide teams never have lost two consecutive regular-season games. The Tide lost at home against Texas, 34-24, last Saturday. From 2008-22, Saban’s teams are 13-1 following a regular-season defeat (after falling 34-28 in the “Kick Six” game at Auburn in 2013, the Tide were beaten by Oklahoma, 45-31, at the Sugar Bowl).

Golesh knows what it’s like to defeat Saban and Alabama. Last season, while Golesh was Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, the Volunteers stunned the Tide 52-49 on Chase McGrath’s 40-yard walk-off field goal.

“I’m not trying to minimize anything in the past, but nobody actually cares what I did,” Golesh said. “Our players certainly don’t care about anything (other than) what we’re doing now and what we can do to help them be really successful.”

–     #GoBulls –