MORGANTOWN - Bill Stewart can't put a finger on it, chalking up the low-scoring games in the history of the South Florida-West Virginia series to just good players on defenses.
He recalls how his Mountaineers have scored less than 20 points in each of the five meetings, four of which have been losses. The one game WVU did win, the famous "White Out" game in tribute to former quarterback Pat White's final home contest, was a 13-7 conquest.
"We've not done very well against this team in the past," Stewart said, "even when we had a juggernaut on offense with Pat White, Owen Schmitt, Darius Reynaud and Steve Slaton. Maybe some teams just have some team's number. Over the years, I've heard that theory."
Stewart expects the same type of defensive struggle in this year's game, a 7:30 p.m. Thursday contest in Morgantown that will be televised nationally on ESPN.
"Craig Marshall (USF defensive end) just jumps right out at you," Stewart said, "and their safety (Jon Lejiste) has almost as many sacks as Marshall. That tells me they have a reckless, sic 'em defense."
Marshall recorded eight tackles and three sacks in last weekend's loss to Syracuse. Marshall has brought down opposing runners 22 times this season, to go along with four sacks and an interception. Lejiste has 15 tackles.
Stewart said his 4-1 and No. 25 Mountaineers need to keep chipping away at that defense if it is to be successful against the 3-2 Bulls.
"This will be a battle of intestinal fortitude," he said. "It will be a game of inches. It will be, 'Can I outstrain you for 4 and seconds and beat you? Can my teammate on my left and on my right do the same?' It will be just old-fashioned blocking, tackling and guts.
"You don't need to put on a cape and go flying around," he added. "That stuff is for comic books. We don't need that . We need to play Mountaineer football."
Stewart said he is concerned about South Florida defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, the former coach at Marshall University. He said Snyder is familiar with WVU quarterback Geno Smith, having seen him last year when Smith filled in for the injured Jarrett Brown on the first series of the game and led WVU to a hard-fought win.
"We didn't do great against Marshall," Stewart said. "We won some games, but we didn't blow them out."
The game has not yet been listed as officially sold out, so Stewart is hoping fans will take advantage of the crisp fall evening and bring a huge walk-up window crowd.
"We need a sell-out crowd," he said. "We would love to have a tremendous gold rush."