The day before each game, we'll share our five keys to the game. This week, here's what we'll be looking for against Stony Brook.
1. Stopping SBU's running game
From what Sam Kilb at The Statesman told us, the strength of the Stony Brook offense is their running game. With Mat Brevi, Stony Brook's top returning receiver, not making the trip due to injury, the Seawolves may have to rely even more on the run to keep them in the game. So there's a good opportunity for USF to begin proving their mettle against the kind of run-oriented teams that have given them so many problems the last few years, especially in Big East play. Getting the Seawolves offense off the field will also play into some of the other keys to the game.
2. Overcoming the excitement, and avoiding the temptation to look ahead to the Gators
Both teams have an excitement factor to contend with. This is the first time Stony Brook has ever played an FBS opponent, and I would guess this will be the biggest crowd they've ever played in front of. And of course it's the first game for USF with Skip Holtz in charge. Whoever can get all that nervous, excited energy out of their system and start playing football first will have an edge.
USF's other problem is that you can't help but look forward to next week's game before you've played this week's game. The same thing happened against Elon to start the 2007 season. USF was clearly looking forward to the game at Auburn the next week, and the Bulls came out flat, only winning 28-13.
3. Start creating identities on the team
Every preview that places USF low in the Big East rankings cites that they lost all these great players. Jason Pierre-Paul, George Selvie, Matt Grothe, Nate Allen, Kion Wilson, Carlton Mitchell - they're all gone. But it's not like there won't be new players taking their place. We just don't know who they are yet. Often people confuse "anonymous" with "bad", and they only change their mind when you have players that they recognize. This is the first chance for someone to step up and get back some of the buzz and the attention that you only seem to get when people know your players.
Who's going to step up at wide receiver, especially with A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin injured? Is anyone going to separate themselves from the crowd at running back? Who will be the next big thing on the USF defense? Can B.J. Daniels take the next step up and become a nationally-known quarterback? It's hard to make a big leap in public perception against an FCS team, but this is where it starts.
4. Get comfortably ahead so the backups can get some much-needed reps
Figuring Stony Brook is likely to run the ball a lot, and knowing USF's weak link on offense is its passing game, this could be a fast, maybe even defensive-oriented game where the Bulls don't have much of a chance to pile up a safe lead. Possessions could be limited and the clock could be almost constantly running. Can USF get far enough ahead of the Seawolves soon enough that they can get some of their young players and second-teams some valuable (and necessary) game experience? The Bulls will need to cash in as many early opportunities as possible to do this.
And this goes without saying, but the earlier you get safely ahead, the earlier you get your star players off the field so they are healthy for the Florida game.
5. How much of next week's game plan do you want to work on in the game?
The eternal argument of "how much do you show the week before a big game." Hopefully the Bulls can work with a relatively easy game plan and not have to use any of what I like to call Billy Barool plays - the ones you go to when you absolutely need something that will work. That might be a play designed to take advantage of a matchup or a scheme, or an exotic blitz or coverage on defense. The more you can take into Gainesville that the Gators haven't seen on film, the more options you have. At the same time, maybe you work on some of next week's game plan anyway, because it's more important to get the execution right in game conditions. The eternal argument.