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October 31, 2013

Match- up - how the Bulls fare against Houston

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USF vs. Houston - Match Up

USF takes on Houston on national television in an American Conference game Thursday. The Bulls come in 2-5 after a 34-3 loss to Louisville at home while Houston downed Rutgers on the road, 49-14.

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Perhaps the strongest part of the defense is the secondary, which has generated 16 interceptions thus far. Safety Adrian McDonald is a ball-hawk and has kept the Cougars in gmes with key take-aways. Wtih freshman QB Mike White making his first start, the pressure will be - can White find a hole in the zone - and will he be able to move on a secondary that has forced turnovers. Starting corners Zach McMillian and Thomas Bates have shared snaps with youngsters Turon Walker, Brandon Wilson and William Jackson When Willie Taggart decided to burn Mike White's redshirt, a lot of Bulls fans were shocked. Not that burning White's redshirt was necessarily a bad thing, but why now - when it's apparent the season is going to be a rebuilding one. White has an opportunity to galvanize an offense that has regressed since game 1 - scoring two offensive touchdowns in the last five games. The bigger question is - will a receiver step up and be Mike's 'go to target'


The linebackers have become the strongest position unit on the defense and possibly on the team. Senior Derrick Mathews continues to put up staggering numbers, even from him. Efrem Oliphant and Steven Taylor have emerged as quality starters. While they haven't generated a lot of sacks, the linebacking corps is solid and will be tasked with stopping the Bulls running game. USF must establish the run to give Mike White a chance to develop. With the return of Marcus Shaw - USF's running game gets the equalizer in this one. The Cougars have been suceptable to the run and with Shaw and the rapidly-developing Darius Tice, the Bulls may be able to keep the blitzing linebackers at bay. FB Ryan Eppes has got to pick up the free linebacker, as Houston plays a 4-3 and will spy on Shaw. White's mobility will also be a factor.


The Cougars' defensive line continues to make their impact on games with solid interior play coupled with a good pass rush from their trio of stand-up ends in Eric Eiland, Trevor Harris and Tyus Bowser. Look for them to pin their ears back some and come after White. Houston has been gashed between the tackles though, and that could be good news for an offense that is desperate to establish the running game. Keep your eyes on Bowser, who has four sacks from the weakside defensive end spot. With the four-man front, the Bulls will have to open some running lanes - and Houston is counting on that not happening. Austin Reiter and the USF line has been ridiculed so much during the scoring drought - giving up sacks and unable to generate much of a surge. Not being able to score from the two yard line cost them against a woeful FAU team and almost cost them against Cincinnati. When it comes to pass blocking, the Bulls offensive line unit may as well go as the 'Invisible Man' or as a Matador (all kidding aside), it's been an awful experience to watch. If the line can't protect Mike White - who does USF turn to? We're seeing more and more freshmen play and Houston's front four aren't the most experienced.


No stranger to Florida high school football fans, freshman John O'Korn is a name that most people in Flordia will remember - considering he led the St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders to an impressive 25 point victory over Tallahassee Lincoln in the 7A state championship game in December - that after leading the Raiders to a 35-18 win over top-ranked Manatee the week before. O'Korn has just 'kept on keeping on' with the Cougars. He's thrown 19 touchdowns to four interceptions and has Deontay Greenberry to throw to - which is a plus. Keeping Greenberry from getting behind you is a priority. Mark Joyce and the secondary have worked their way through injuries, inconsistent play and busted coverage. Last week was the lowpoint with Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater picking apart the secondary and making it look relatively easy. That - despite the five sacks registered by the Bulls. A youthful secondary against a true freshman QB should be a good match up - but stopping the big plays has got to be the key to this game turning in USF's favor. The secondary is still not quite 100 percent and the short week will likely create opportunities for the experienced Houston receiving corps vs. the inexperienced younger USF secondary


If there is any area where USF has a clear advantage, it's the Houston running game. Sophomore Ryan Jackson will be good to play after suffering a head injury in Saturday's win over Rutgers. He and Kenneth Farrow combined to eclipse the century mark before Jackson left the game. If Jackson is unable to go, look for Kent Brooks and Justin Hicks to pick up slack. True freshman Greg Ward stepped in and led the team in rushing last week. De De Lattimore and company were overworked last week against Louisville, having to make countless tackles in the secondary and beyond the line of scrimmage. The fact that this is the true strength of the USF defense is not lost on anyone and containing a lackluster Houston running game is key. USF cannot allow Houston to set the pace with the running game - which sets up O'Korn and company. Look for big games from Nigel Harris and Reshard Cliett - incluidng pressure on O'Korn, who hasn't been sacked that often.


The Cougars offensive line had it's best game of the season last week and even was mentioned by head coach Tony Levine, as he noted they had reached some stabilization up front. They will need to continue that upward trend in opening holes and keeping O'Korn upright. That being said, they are facing a unit that has 21.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks - including five against Louisville last week. Houston has - for the most part - not been a run-first team so if USF can get to O'Korn, that could tip the scales. Just when we thought he'd make his presence at USF - Aaron Lynch did his best 'Invisible Man' impression Saturday - with one assist. Yes, Lynch was benched to start the game - which is a cause for concern in and of itself. Seniors Ryne Giddins and Luke Sager along with Julius Forte and Elkino Watson have got to find a way to carry over the five-sack performance from last week. One big key - GET OFF THE FIELD ON THIRD DOWN. The short week favors the defense in these scenarios - so we'll give a slight nod to the USF defensive line.


Houston punter/kicker Richie Leone has double duty and makes it work. He's averaging 42.8 yards per punt and has kicked 60 percent of his kickoffs in the end zone. However, the Cougars have had three field goals blocked and Leone has missed three more. That's an area of concern for Houston - given that USF has blocked two field goals in three games and come very close to blocking a punt. Leone is a Ray Guy finalist - but we think the advantage goes to the Bulls. Marvin Kloss has been the main offensive weapon - make that the ONLY offensive weapon for USF. His kicking has improved each game and he hasn't missed a field goal since game one. Mattias Ciabatti continues to add distance to his average each week and has yet to get one blocked. Special teams for USF has blocked two field goals in the last three games - and has been the strong point of the team. Given the fact that Houston has had three field goals blocked this year, this could be the key turning point.


A year under his belt, Houston coach Tony Levine has stability of a system and a staff, and a 6-1 record. That and the fact that he's not had to deal with the revolving door of quarterbacks. Levine has said all along that O'Korn was their guy, which has given the offensive staff time to work the offense around one quarterback. The running game for Houston has been hit with some untimely injuries, but the staff has done a great job of plugging in the new guy and moving on. The slight edge goes to Houston. /Willie Taggart and his staff were out-prepared, out-coached and out-schemed by Louisville. That won't happen tonight. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan may have a little something up his sleeve to try and confuse O'Korn and company and speical teams coach Stu Holt has certainly earned his pay the last five games. Overall, the staff will have to focus on keeping Mike White calm and upright and that may be a challenge, given the state of the woeful offensive line.



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