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November 29, 2013

USF faces UCF Knights as underdog

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USF takes on rival Central Florida in Orlando Friday night at 8 PM on ESPN2.

The Bulls have never lost to the Knights and face the daunting task of knocking off a ranked opponent - something USF has not done this year - losing by a combined score of 83-17 in match ups with Top 20 teams this year.

The Bulls have got to score early and force UCF to get its offense off the field. UCF has scored quickly in almost every game - and given the Bulls' penchant for giving up cheap points with offensive turnovers - this game could get ugly in a hurry.

Here's how we see the game.

USF (2-8, 2-4) vs. UCF (9-1, 6-0)






USF has the capability of changing the game with its secondary. The Knights have four experienced secondary players - led by strong safety Clinton Geathers. If UCF can force White to throw into triple coverage (like last week) it may get very ugly very quickly. The Knights disguise their coverage very well. Corners Jacoby Glenn and Jordan Ozerities play tight man coverage - however, USF may have an advantage in size with Davis and McFarland. Free safety Brandon Alexander has the wild card effect and can get to the ball quickly. Look for the Knights to stack the bock and dare White to try and beat them - sort of what Memphis and SMU did to shut down the run and force Wite into passing mode. If the secondary can cover Davis - and the other players cannot contribute - it will be a long night. The first time we saw Mike White - he didn't look like a true freshman against Houston - throwing for 311 yards and nearly leading the Bulls to a win over the Cougars. The last two games - yes - he's looked like a true freshman. White has thrown six interecptions in the last two games - and has had issues looking off his primary receiver. Andre Davis is his favorite target, but for USF to have any effect in this game - Mike McFarland and others have got to take pressure off White and Davis.


Linebacker Terrence Plummer is the leading tackler (81, 7 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 FF) for the Knights and with good reason. The Knights deploy a 4-3 defense (similar to what USF started the season with) and have the personnel to make it work. Other than Plummer (6-foot-1, 240) Troy Guy and Brandon Alexander are the other two backers tasked with stopping the run. UCF gives up 128 yards per game on the ground, and if the Knights walk Geathers into the box to stop the run, it could be a very long day for the Bulls. Willie Taggart said it best - for the Bulls to be effective, 'We have to run the ball'. Marcus Shaw hasn't been the same since leaving the Cincinnati game with a pulled hamstring. In fact, he has a high of 57 yards against Memphis - and hasn't come close to the break-away speed we saw at the beginning of the season. Yes - teams are keying on the run and shutting down the lanes. That and the consistently poor offensive line play (costly penalties and missed assignments) hasn't helped. Forget the rotation - feed the rock to Shaw.


UCF uses a four-man front and has been effective at stopping the run and bringing pressure. The Knights have 22 sacks on the season and face off with an o-line that has yet to be able to show it can keep a QB upright for any length of time. Look for tackles Demetrius Anderson and E.J. Dunston to bring pressure from the 'B' gap and try to clog up the running game. DE Thomas Niles could pose big problems for the tackle spot, something USF has struggled with all season long. The same thing can be said over and over again. This offensive line simply hasn't learned the scheme well enough to be effective. Undiciplined and out of position are two phrases that have been used time and time again. Just the fact that two of the biggest scoring chances last week were wiped out by holding and false start penalties on the tackle spot should tell you - it may be a long night. USF will have to have an error-free game from this unit to win.


For everything that USF has been at QB - UCF has not been. Blake Bortles has been a consistent starter and effective QB for the Knights - and is likely the reason UCF is standing on the edge of its first-ever BCS bowl berth. With over 2800 yards passing and 20 touchdowns, he's got several targets to throw to - including Rannel Hall, J.J. Worton and Jeff Godfrey. All have over 34 catches this year - compared to only one from USF. The young Bulls secondary will be tested and tested often and early. If the offensive line holds - it may be a very - very long Friday night. If ever there was a time for the Bulls secondary to galvanize - it's now. USF has made plays to stop scoring threats with interceptions, but also given up some big throws over the middle. The way that Memphis and red-shirt fresman Paxton Lynch picked apart the secondary was by taking the inside slant/drag pass. Pressure on Bortles is the key - that and no wide-open throws downfield. The young secondary has grown up with Hassan Childs, Johnny Ward and Lamar Robbins seeing extensive playing time. Can USF answer with pressure from Aaron Lynch and Luke Sager?


Former Miami RB Storm Johnson leads the Knights running game with 916 yards - averaging 5.3 a carry and 11 touchdowns. Out of the backfield, Johnson can be equally as dangerous with 22 catches for 230 yards and three scores. After that, the depth chart drops to FR. William Stanback - a 5-foot-11 RB from NY who has 73 carries for 347 yards. Johnson is the main weapon but USF has to spy on Bortles, who can run for yardage and will move around the pocket. The Bulls have to stop the run to effectively blitz. The linebacking corps has come a long way for USF. Of course, senior DeDe Lattimore and junior Reshard Cliett have led the way, but the play of freshman Nigel Harris and others has enabled LB coach Raymond Woodie to keep a fresh group out there and that will be needed today aginst the Knights. The 'Tampa Two' coverage package does expose the middle for passing, but USF has adjusted in its coverage schemes. We'll see how far they've come from last week to this week.


UCF has a senior-laden offensive line that knows how to protect Bortles. The size of the front, averages 300 pounds across the front five. Sophomore center Joey Grant will be matched with Elkino Watson and company. UCF has avoided injuries - but the depth chart is not very deep up front. Experience-wise, the two guards are seniors and the left tackle as well. UCF has given up 18 sacks this year - and considering the Knights throw twice as much as they run - that's a pretty impressive stat.

The play of Ryne Giddins and Julius Forte has been consistent, and Luke Sager. Elkino Watson and Aaron Lynch will have to play mistake-free football. That means no silly 15 yard penalties or off-sides penalties - something that has consistently plagued the line unit and cost USF momentum. The key matchup will be Watson against center Joey Grant and Lynch/Giddins against OTs Torrian Wilson and Chris Martin. If USF can get a pass rush off the edge, this game may be different than the experts think - that's a big "if".


UCF has a very accurate field goal kicker in Shawn Moffit (16-of 17) but he has had one blocked. Moffit has a long of 50 - and has not missed an extra-point. Sean Galvin handles the kickoffs and has produced 22 touchbacks on 61 attempts. Punter Caleb Houston is averaging 43.1 yards per kick including eight inside the 20 and five 50+ punts. On the return side, Rannell Hall handles the kickoffs and JJ Worton handles the punts. Consistency is something USF has not been able to find in the return game. Marvin Kloss became the first USF player to be named as a finalist for a national award when he was named as one of three kickers in contention for the Lou Groza award. While Kloss has struggled of late (missing three of his last four), he's still the best weapon offensively USF has - unfortuantely. Mattias Ciabatti continues to keep offenses backed up with his 40-plus average. Can USF find a consistent kick returner?


After ten years at UCF, George O'Leary has established himself as a consistent coach. This is perhaps his best team ever in Orlando and he knows it. Only a loss to South Carolina blemishes the record for the Knights and a shot at not only getting a BCS Bowl berth, but also winning the 'War on I-4' with a rival that hasn't ever lost gives the Knights staff a chance to motivate the players. O'Leary's stability of staff and longevity get the edge. Willie Taggart has worked his way through the fire - the costly mistakes and the 'could-have-been' games. Now he faces a rival who has everything to play for and a chance to get its first-ever win over USF. Can Tags get the Bulls to 'DoSomething' that no one expects them to do? With literally nothing to play for but pride, the staff has to motivate this senior class and the crop of freshman to fhe fact that this is a rivalry and 'pride' is on the line.



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