The film doesn't lie. In examining the losses against Rutgers and Ball State, which have the University of South Florida Bulls reeling heading into tonight's mega-game against No. 4-ranked Florida State at jam-packed Raymond James Stadium, USF junior defensive end Julius Forte had a clear assessment.
"I think (it's) what we don't see,'' Forte said. "We don't see USF front seven. Years on end, we've been known for being physical, fast and pressuring offenses. We haven't been doing that to the best of our ability.''
Now there's an understatement.
The 17-point underdog Bulls (2-2) better be prepared to bring something extra if they hope to compete against FSU (4-0), which last week thrashed Clemson 49-37 and rolled up 667 total yards.
Meanwhile, in 71 plays against Ball State, a middle-of-the-pack Mid-American Conference team, the Bulls had no sacks, no tackles for a loss and one quarterback pressure.
With the looming presence of FSU senior quarterback EJ Manuel (6-foot-5, 240 pounds), a speed/power backfield combination and an arsenal of fleet and physical receivers, the Bulls can't afford to be tentative.
"We're not attacking,'' Bulls junior defensive end Ryne Giddins said. "We've got to keep our motor running.''
"We're really tight,'' Bulls senior middle linebacker Mike Lanaris said. "It's serious stuff and we have a business demeanor, but you need to have fun with your teammates and enjoy playing the game. I think we lost that somewhere along the line.''
Excluding the 151 yards given up in the opener against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent, the USF defense has surrendered an eye-popping average of 462 yards in the last three games. That includes 10 touchdowns and a 44.7 percent (21 of 47) conversion rate on third-down plays.
"That's just unacceptable,'' Lanaris said.
Senior linebacker Sam Barrington had a harsher word this week during a radio interview – "incompetent.''
First-year defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, who was at Kansas State last season, insists attacking is part of USF's philosophy.
"In some calls you make, you're making them attack, too, but we've got to do that a little bit better,'' Cosh said. "You've got to put your hand down in the dirt, get your pads out and go forth. That's what we coach. That's what we want to get done. We've got to instill that better. We've got to do a better job of coaching it and executing it.''
Against Manuel, though, the challenge will be heightened.
"I don't know if what we do schematically will make a huge difference,'' USF defensive ends coach Vernon Hargreaves said. "Manuel is a Cam Newton-type guy. We can't just run around and say we'll keep him in the pocket. He'll kill you from there. You almost have to pick your poison because he does it all well. I do know we've got to play much faster and try to swarm him.''
The Bulls must create pressure, force turnovers and get off the field in third-down situations – all things they've been unable to accomplish most of this season.
"Defensively, we've lost our aggressiveness up front,'' USF coach Skip Holtz said. "We've got to get back to playing downhill and applying pressure. We've started playing sideways more, instead of north and south. We've got to raise our standards.
"We've got a huge challenge ahead. There were times last week when Florida State made Clemson defenders look foolish in open space. If we play like we've been playing, we're going to get embarrassed. They're good enough to do that to you.''
The film doesn't lie.