A lopsided loss, a rash of injuries and a couple of no-shows have done little to deter the confidence of the University of San Diego's football team.
The Toreros have their opponents right where they want them.
"I think they're confident; I hope they're confident," USD Coach Brian Fogarty said of his 1-1-1 team. "This week during practice, they showed more resolve than ever before. Our offense had the best practice they've had in three weeks. The kids were more serious."
That tone will carry over to today's 7 p.m. contest, when USD meets Claremont-Mudd at Torero Stadium, the second of three consecutive home games. The Toreros are eager to shake off the remnants of a 28-7 loss to Redlands last week, a game in which they were outmaneuvered and outsmarted but not overpowered.
"Anyone who watched probably wouldn't think the difference in that game was three touchdowns," Fogarty said.
Nevertheless, Fogarty gathered the troops after a practice one day to stress the importance of forgetting about Redlands, its four injured defensive players and three others who quit the team--Fogarty cited the players' academic and financial concerns--on Monday, gearing up for Claremont-Mudd and getting on the scoreboard lickety-split.
"I think that's always the case," he said. "We've pushed that. We must play well early."
An idea that has somehow passed by USD in its first three outings. The Toreros still haven't succeeded on as much as a field goal in the first half hour of play, and all of their points--they have been outscored 62-42--have come in the second half.
But quarterback Michael Bennett said early success means nothing if USD can't sustain the effort.
"A lot of emphasis has been put on the fact that the offense hasn't produced in the first half," Bennett said. "But you can go out and play a great first half and if you don't play a great second half, it doesn't make much difference."
What USD hopes will make a difference this week is the emergence of an offense with a multitude of options. In a run-oriented offense, Bennett proved he can pass as well as hand off (he was 19 for 38, 201 yards last week) and four players have had at least six receptions.
"We have a lot more threats," Bennett said. "We're not making as many huge plays (as last year), but anyone can make a great play for us. You never know who's going to get the ball."
More often than not, when USD's opponent gets the ball, the Toreros defense has made short work of their efforts. But against Redlands, the defensive plan simply unraveled.
"We didn't give ourselves a chance to win," defensive coordinator Kevin McGarry said. "We didn't do what we worked on. Redlands is probably the toughest team on our schedule, but they didn't physically dominate us, it was more mental."
The Toreros hope to play some mind games with Claremont-Mudd.
The Stags (0-1) have 25 returning lettermen, but that's off a team that went 0-9 in 1991, when USD ousted them, 30-3. In their opener against Rhodes College (Tenn.) two week ago, Claremont-Mudd lost, 21-0, its 11th consecutive defeat. USD has won the last five meetings.
USD has played what the coaching staff envisioned as its three toughest games of the season, and said its record could easily be 3-0, or any other numerical combination.
McGarry said while the Stags aren't the caliber of the teams USD has met thus far, they have the potential to trip up the Torero defense with their spread offense, where they line up three receivers on one side and one on the other.