When it happens – if it happens – University of South Florida defensive backs coach Rick Smith, 64, said he will bestow a special surprise on the lucky Bull who nabs the team's first interception this season.
A kiss on the mouth.
Smith can chuckle about that pledge, but only for a moment.
The fate of USF football (2-4, 0-2 Big East Conference) has been no laughing matter. And it's not getting easier. The Bulls lug a four-game losing streak into today's league matchup with the No. 16-ranked Louisville Cardinals (6-0, 1-0).
Fittingly, the Bulls got here by playing losing football. The most astounding statistic is USF's turnover ratio – minus-10. USF has the only defense in the 120-team Football Bowl Subdivision not to have an interception.
Not picking. Not grinning.
It's scary to still have such a dubious drought as Halloween approaches.
"Nobody would ever believe such a thing could happen,'' USF senior cornerback Kayvon Webster said. "We've got to get that first one and then it won't be such an issue.''
"That is a huge part of our problem right now,'' said Bulls coach Skip Holtz, whose team recovered three fumbles on Sept. 8 at Nevada, but forced no turnovers in four other games. "Our lack of turnovers has had an impact and our turnovers on offense have had an impact. We've got to put more pressure on the quarterback. We've got to be more disciplined and consistent in our pass coverage.''
The Bulls really haven't come close to getting an interception, except for a Sept. 22 sequence at Ball State, when a pass deflected off the helmet of USF defensive tackle Luke Sager, wobbled high in the air for a few seconds, then was alertly batted down by an offensive lineman.
"We definitely have to force more turnovers if we're going to turn this thing around,'' USF senior linebacker Sam Barrington said. "We've got to hit the ball-carrier harder, put pressure on the quarterback, have no lost chances, don't drop interceptions. And when the ball's on the ground, we've got to come up with it.
"I guess we've been playing some pretty efficient quarterbacks and (Louisville's Teddy) Bridgewater is another one. We've got to put ourselves in great position to take the ball away instead of having the ball given to us.''
Bridgewater is completing 71.8 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and just three interceptions. To have success, Smith said USF's defensive positioning must change.
"The reason we don't have interceptions is our safeties do a terrible job of seeing the quarterback throw the football,'' said Smith, pointing out that Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins, first-year starters at safety, have not shown enough instincts or anticipation. "I took about six plays from (practice) Sunday night and I said, 'Habits are what we become.' Six plays where I had two or three people not breaking on the ball. That is a habit I've allowed to develop.
"That's on me. That's coaching. Not looking at the quarterback is coaching. I have to take responsibility for that. I'm trying to get that corrected. Habits are hard to correct.''
This week, Smith restored a habit from last season. If USF doesn't get three turnovers during a practice, the defensive unit has to run gassers afterward. Tuesday, the Bulls got one interception, but dropped four. After the extra running, senior cornerback George Baker told Smith such discipline was a good thing.
Something had to be done.
"It's remarkable,'' Smith said of USF failing to get an interception on 181 pass attempts this season. "I'm shocked. It's really mind-boggling. It's embarrassing.''
And if it continues, USF will keep kissing away its opportunity at ending the losing streak.