Its always a nice time meeting up with an old friend. Unfortunately, that sentence has nothing to do with this article. Last season, the Bulls of South Florida drove over Cincinnati, put the car in reverse and ran it over again before repeating that sequence roughly 60 times. The 65-27 loss was a low point in a season full of them. With USF coming to Nippert Stadium this weekend, its time to face the demons of that late November evening. To help, we turned to Collin Sherwin over at The Daily Stampede to chat about USF’s season, its potent offense and what to expect this weekend.
DTD: Other than Houston, USF was the most hyped team in the AAC entering this season. How well do you think the Bulls have lived up to that through four games?
CS: Pretty spectacularly until last week. USF was right about where I thought they would be through the first three games. They disposed of Northern Illinois and Syracuse without much difficulty, and looked very efficient offensively while doing so.
We thought the defense might be a cause for concern this year with the departure of coordinator Tom Allen, and his replacement Raymond Woodie having never called plays before. They also lost some players along the defensive line and have been trying to win with a lot of bodies instead of a lot of talent. But I don't think anyone saw them giving up 478 yards on the ground to FSU & 267 to Dalvin Cook alone.
It's time to reassess how good that unit really is. By S&P USF is 10th in America offensively and 89th on defense. That might be a bit closer to reality than we projected before the season began.
DTD: Is there a concern that there will be a hangover from last week’s loss against Florida State?
CS: I'd think they'd be able to turn the page, but I also thought they'd show up for FSU defensively. This is a junior-heavy team, but a lot of guys that got a lot of starts during USF's Dark Period (2011-14). The big thing going into this season was the conference title more than the FSU game, so I'd hope they stick with it. But you don't really know until you know, ya know?
DTD: On that same topic, although a 20-point loss is never a great thing to endure, what were some positives you took from the game? What weaknesses did the game expose that can be corrected?
CS: The positives are that shitshow is over. Also that the offense found a way to move the ball early, scoring on the first play of the game with an 84-yard TD to Rodney Adams, and then taking nine plays to march 72 yards on the next drive to lead 14-7. But once FSU got them off the field, they punted their next five possessions.
The weaknesses exposed are you can run outside the tackles on USF. They wanted to funnel Dalvin Cook inside, and they had zero chance of doing so. The holes were massive, and sportswriters could have gotten first downs through them. That's gotta get corrected immediately.
DTD: This is USF’s first conference game of the season. What are your expectations for USF’s title chase and have they changed at all since the summer?
CS: I thought USF would be the heavy favorite to win the East Division, and I think that's still the case. They should be the best non-Houston team in the league, though Memphis is giving them a run for their money early. That expectation hasn't changed: if USF does what they're capable of doing, they should get to the title game. Even a loss at Memphis wouldn't matter if they go 5-0 against the East like they did last year.
DTD: USF is the No. 21 team in the country in terms of total offense. What has been behind the offensive resurgence?
CS: We're pretty stats-nerdy, so we prefer the 10th in S&P and 9th in IsoPPP as measures. The resurgence wasn't some slow build, it happened all at once. You can even point to the play: a gadget vs. Syracuse last season early in the second half. Since then the floodgates have opened, and the Bulls have average 40 points a game.
They just have too many playmakers in space to all be shut down. More on them in this next question...
DTD: Quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back Marlon Mack are standouts we all know on offense, but who are some other players making big contributions that might be flying under the radar?
CS: Rodney Adams is a threat both as a receiver and as a runner in jet sweep action.. He’s got three TD’s receiving and four as a rusher so far this season, and has some raw speed and runs good routes.
The guy we’ve been the most excited about has been Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who might end up being the best in USF history at the position. A transfer from NC State that wanted to come home, he’s the total package of speed, size, hands, blocking, and route-running. He’s a program-changing type of player, and since USF has exactly three career NFL receptions by a wide receiver (Carlton Mitchell), he should shatter the mold.
Those guys are on the marquee, but the depth is why USF has been successful. Ryeshene Bronson, Tyre McCants, and D’Ernest Johnson out of the backfield are guys that can make plays as well, and will if a defense tries to bracket or double Adams or Scantling. Watch for Bronson on 9 routes… he can get behind a defense and score.
Where the Bulls have also excelled this season is in blocking by the wide receivers and running backs. Guys have been able to hit and hold their blocks really effectively.
DTD: USF obviously got lit up by Florida State (647 total yards), but the team is letting up just 386.33 yards per game if you take that one out. Which number is more indicative of USF’s ability as a defense?
CS: Somewhere in the middle. Towson, Northern Illinois, and Syracuse aren’t a mad-as-hell FSU team, so it’s likely the Bulls fall squarely in the middle there. Having seen UC this season, I think you’ll be able to move the ball (even without Moore). But getting consistent stops might be an issue.
DTD: I’ve tried to avoid this as long as possible, but USF crushed Cincinnati last year and has won two of the last three meetings. What has been the key to the Bulls’ recent success (specifically last year)?
CS: We just have more athletes than most teams in the league. All the fantastic recruiting WIllie Taggart has done has opened up plays for playmakers. You can’t really shift coverage to anyone, and that keeps everyone capable of making a big play. Defensively it allows them to play with speed and fly to the ball. Except when FSU is pin-pull blocking and running simple inside trap stuff. Because they we look like we’ve never seen it before.
USF is winning games in February by just getting better players than any G5 team should get, which is something that never happened with Skip Holtz of course. If it wasn’t for Houston and Herman, we’d clearly be the best recruiting school in the G5.
DTD: Lastly, who wins this game and why?
CS: Last week we got a pissed-off FSU after their humiliation by Louisville. This week you’re getting a pissed-off USF after their humiliation by FSU.
I think we just have more athletes that can make plays, and your defense hasn’t looked so hot in the games I’ve seen this season. You’ll score a bunch, but I think USF will score even more, as the Bulls are 9th in the country in points per possession crossing the 40 (6.13).
The over/under of 59.5 is just free money in this game. Take the over (USF has gone over the total on all three FBS games this year), but the Bulls win a shootout 59-41.
And before you call me a homer… yes, I did pick FSU last week.