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.
It was a tough week for the Louisville Cardinals in week eight. Losing their first game of the season to the Central Florida Knights on a national stage had to hurt the team that was looking to go unbeaten with one of the easiest schedule of any team in the nation. Sitting at 6-1, the Cardinals will need to rebound and win out for a chance at a BCS bowl.
On the other side of the field, the South Florida Bulls are one of the worst teams in the conference, but that hasn’t stopped them from reeling off two straight victories after an 0-4 start to the season. Another big win against Louisville could give them the momentum they need to make a bowl bid.
While they did lose to Central Florida, the Cardinals still had a solid two and a half quarters of football in which they dominated, going up 28-7 at one point. However, it took a serious comeback by UCF to take down the Cardinals and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The junior quarterback has still had a solid campaign in 2013, passing for 2,213 yards and 20 touchdowns, connecting with DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland a combined 54 times for 864 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
South Florida has had one of the worst passing offenses in the nation, ranking 115th in pass yards per game with just 138 and no quarterback has passed for over 450 yards through six games on the season yet. It looks like senior quarterback Bobby Eveld is the starter right now, but coming off an 8-28 performance with just 106 yards and an interception, the Bulls might want to stick to running the ball. However, the run game isn’t much better as they rank 104th in yards per game on the ground. Marcus Shaw is the only bright spot on offense, rushing for 552 yards and two scores on 86 carries.
Defensively, the Bulls are not exactly a stellar unit. However, the strength of the team is defense, ranking 89th in points allowed per game, the Bulls also rank 20th in the nation in yards allowed per game with just 347. Louisville has been known for having a solid defense in 2013. The Cardinals allow the second-least amount of points per game in the nation while also allowing the second-least amount of yards.
Louisville will travel to South Florida to take on the Bulls at 12 p.m. EST on Saturday, Oct. 26. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN 2.
PREDICTION: Louisville 35, South Florida 13
Miami’s offense did not look that great against a stout Gator defense, but the Canes escaped with the win anyway. Florida played a bad game as they turned the ball over five times, which made Al Golden‘s job a little easier. Last week, Miami beat a poor Savannah State team 77-7, a game which told us absolutely nothing about the Canes. This is a game that never should have been played and was not good for college football.
This week, Miami plays its final tune-up game before getting into conference play. They will travel to Tampa to take on a USF team that has taken a fall from grace ever since Jim Leavitt was let go by the program.
Leavitt built the USF football program up from nothing and had his team ranked as high as No. 2 at one point during the 2007 season. In that 2007 season, the Bulls experienced early-season success when they pounded North Carolina and UCF. Following those wins, they defeated then-ranked No. 5 West Virginia, who was led by Pat White and Steve Slaton, 21-13. That turned out to be the biggest win in school history, and the Bulls skyrocketed up the polls.
However, the fast success would come to a halt when a Ray Rice-led Rutgers team upset the Bulls a few week later. USF let one loss turn into many more. In 2008, the Bulls beat then-ranked No. 10 Kansas and in 2009 went to Tallahassee and beat Florida State in Doak Campbell Stadium.
This program was on the rise, and then Leavitt was fired after an incident that involved him allegedly striking a player. Skip Holtz came in and the losses piled up.
Willie Taggart is now the head man in Tampa, but the Bulls are off to an 0-3 start. This program has really taken multiple steps back, and Miami will be a huge favorite in this game. USF got blown out by the Canes last season by a score of 40-9. However, in 2011, the Canes only won 6-3, and they lost to the Bulls in 2010.
I do not see an upset occurring this weekend, but this is a game that means a lot to USF and the little fans it has left. USF got embarrassed in Week 1 when they lost to McNeese State 53-21, but followed that game with a respectable 21-6 loss to Michigan State. In their most recent game, the Bulls lost to Florida Atlantic 28-10, which is telling of how low this team is in the Florida football pecking order.
At one point, USF was more relevant than Miami and Florida State, but now they are less relevant than FAU.
Miami’s quarterback Stephen Morris should be good to go this week after an ankle injury had him sidelined in the first quarter of the Savannah State game. I look for Duke Johnson to have a big game and for USF fans to head back to their tailgates fairly early. Taggart is going to need a few years before this USF team can start to compete with Florida’s best teams again.
As for Miami, they play Georgia Tech next weekend, so it would be good for them to work on their execution and try to come out of this game with no injuries. Their showdown with the Yellow Jackets next week could be the game that decides the ACC Coastal division.
Travis Patterson, Writer for ACC Rantsports.com. Follow on Twitter @tpat20. https://twitter.com/tpat20