The season could not have started any worse for the South Florida Bulls. They were blown off the field 53-21 against FCS McNeese State to open a four-game losing streak in non-conference play. They’ve bounced back, however, during AAC play, winning back-to-back games against the Cincinnati Bearcats and UConn Huskies to find themselves at 2-0 in conference play and at the top of the standings. The mini-winning streak for the Bulls is completely thanks to the stellar play of the defense who will have to have their best game yet against the Louisville Cardinals this weekend.
Over the last two games, the USF offense has been missing in action. In fact, of the Bulls’ 39 points scored in their two conference wins, zero have come from offensive touchdowns. It has been the defense and special teams putting points on the board with three defensive touchdowns (one blocked field goal and two fumble returns) and six field goals from kicker Marvin Kloss. While USF is still averaging giving up more than 30 points per game this season (thanks to the early blowout losses), they still rank No. 4 in the AAC in total defense and are allowing just 15 points in conference play.
Of course, Louisville is on another level offensively than Cincinnati or UConn. Teddy Bridgewater remains one of the top quarterback prospects in the country following their upset loss at the hands of the UCF Knights last week. The Cardinals rank No. 1 in the AAC in total offense and No. 2 in scoring offense and will be looking for a major bounce-back after last week’s disappointing loss that cost the Cardinals their outside-shot at a BCS National Championship. They are tied for the fewest turnovers lost in the conference (7) so the USF defense will need to work for their turnover opportunities.
That will put pressure on senior linebacker Devekeyan Lattimore, the team’s leader in tackles and passes defended, to play his best game yet in 2013 and raise the level of the defense around him. Highly touted sophomore defensive end Aaron Lynch made a major splash in the win against Connecticut, scooping up a fumble and returning it 44 yards for a touchdown, but has been relatively quiet the rest of the season. He’s only made 14 tackles with a single sack and three quarterback pressures. His ability to rush the passer will be a huge key to getting to Bridgewater and he must step it up this week.
Right now, the Bulls can’t rely on their offense, particularly if running back Marcus Shaw remains limited with a hamstring issue. That means the defense needs to lead the way once again, creating turnovers and putting some points on the board, if USF has any shot at victory this weekend.