It was only a few short years ago that the South Florida Bulls were among the most feared opponents on Cincinnati’s schedule. Year-in and year-out they boasted a solid defense with a spectacular line to compliment an offense that could move the ball pretty well. They weren’t going to light up the scoreboard every week but they were typically able to score enough points such that the Bulls defense could keep the opponent in check.
Against the Bearcats in particular South Florida always seemed to play their best games, especially with former quarterback B.J. Daniels at the helm. I’m not quite sure what got into him when he faced Cincinnati or why Daniels played as well as he did. Did UC pull a scholarship offer from him? Did a family member get beat up on the streets of Cincinnati? Did a binturong eat his dog?* Regardless of the reason, B.J. Daniels always seemed to middle his way through a season then wind up playing like Peyton Manning against Cincinnati. Take 2011 for example. Daniels had yet to throw a touchdown pass against Big East competition that season and was averaging about 194 yards passing against conference foes. But when Cincinnati came along he went off, passing for over 400 yards, 3 touchdowns, and completing 65% of his passes. It was insanity.
*That would be silly! Binturong’s are vegetarians, aside from the occasional fish and human ear.
But those days are long gone. South Florida has yet to win a game in 2013, getting absolutely manhandled in each of their losses this year. That includes a 32-point loss to FCS McNeese State in week 1 and a 18-point loss to Florida Atlantic in week 3. Clearly Willie Taggert’s inaugural season hasn’t started off with the bang he’d like.
To be honest, there really isn’t much “offense” to speak of here. The Bulls are 122nd in the nation in total offense, 116th in passing offense, 100th in rushing offense, and 120th in scoring offense. Their quarterbacks (and I literally mean more than one, it’s a quarterback by committee right now) have thrown for less than 600 yards and 4 touchdowns this season. Steven Bench is set to start against Cincinnati on Saturday but who knows how quickly that could change. It’s a shame, really, that the USF passing game is so poor because it is wasting a truly excellent effort from runningback Marcus Shaw.
I’ve only been able to bear watching a few quarters of South Florida games this season but from what I’ve seen Shaw faces 6-7 man fronts on nearly every play. Opposing defenses simply don’t fear the Bulls’ passing game and thus stack the box to stop the runningback. So it’s extremely impressive to me that Shaw has ground out 525 yards and a pair of touchdowns this year. He’s a short back but not small, weighing in at 178 lbs despite his 5’9″ stature. He tends to get lost behind his offensive line then explodes upfield, catching defenders at the second level off guard. It’s a rare trait to have and one that has definitely benefited him this season. He’ll be one to watch this Saturday.
As in the past, the South Florida Bulls have hung their hat on their defense this season. But, unlike in recent years, they’re doing so only because the offense is so deplorable. But that doesn’t mean the USF defense isn’t talented. They are, just underachieving. On paper the front seven should be among the best in the AAC with players like Aaron Lynch, Ryne Giddins, and DeDe Lattimore flying all over the field. But they’ve only sacked the opposing quarterback twice this season and allowed offenses to rush for over 161 yards per game.
As a whole, South Florida’s defense is surrendering over 5 touchdowns per game but I think it has more to do with the lackluster Bulls offense than anything. Stay with me here. On the season, USF is allowing 38 touchdowns per game (112th nationally) but is only giving up 364 yards per game, which places them among the upper half of defenses. So it’s not like teams are moving the ball on them, it’s that they are gifted with short fields due to the mistakes and overall ineptitude of the Bulls offense. Plus the 38 touchdowns allowed stat seems skewed. Just two weeks ago, the Bulls defense held Florida Atlantic to 228 yards of total offense but South Florida lost 28-10. A main reason in the seemingly lopsided defeat? Two Owl defensive touchdowns by way of a Bulls fumble and pick-six from quarterback Steven Bench.
So while the USF defense is underachieving, they aren’t being helped by a Bulls offense that is averaging just 13.5 first downs per game and converting just 18.5% of third downs.
South Florida’s punter uncorked a 2-yard punt last weekend against the Miami Hurricanes. That’s all you need to know about USF’s special teams unit.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND PREDICTION
My gut tells me to be wary of this South Florida team. They’re not playing to their potential, get Cincinnati at home, and are facing a Bearcats team that overlooked the Miami Redhawks who are equally inept on offense. But I just can’t see UC losing this game. They’ve had two weeks to prepare and are showing signs of improved consistency on both sides of the football. This is either going to be a high-scoring Cincinnati win or a low-scoring Cincinnati win. Either way, all evidence points to a Bearcats victory and no matter how it comes I’ll be happy with that.
South Florida: 13