The USF Bulls (0-1) look to bounce back from their season-opening loss as they hit the road to take on Michigan State (1-0) for a noon match at Spartan Stadium.
The Bulls suffered a humbling 53-21 loss to McNeese State last Saturday, ending the program's 23-0 run against FCS programs and its perfect home opener record. Michigan State fared better in its home opener, winning by the score of 26-13 against Western Michigan. Both teams will be looking for a strong win to boost morale after looking offensively sluggish last weekend as well as to remain in the thick of their respective conferences.
This is the first time these teams have met.
Five Keys to the Game
Win the quarterback battle. As much as Michigan State may be favored to come away with the victory in this matchup, the Spartans have just as much uncertainty at the QB position as the Bulls do. While neither team will solve this issue in this game, it is important that whoever gets the start for USF plays like it'll win him a permanent starting job.
Limit time of possession. McNeese State had the ball for nearly 36 minutes, and at one point had seven consecutive scoring plays. If USF allows the Spartan offense that much time on the field, the outcome could be much worse than the home opener. Extending scoring drives and eliminating three-and-outs will be key if the Bulls are to win this game.
Get out of their own heads. Yes, they just lost to an FCS team, and yes, that is truly a humbling experience. But if USF dwells on that misstep when it steps into a Big 10 opponent's house, the game will be over before it has even begun. This is a chance for the Bulls to put up a real fight on the national stage, and they won't be able to do that if they're unable to get past last Saturday.
Eliminate the turnovers. USF cannot afford to be the charitable type. Giving McNeese State two points was one thing, but following that with three turnovers that resulted in 21 points - well - there's your ball game. The Bulls did manage to collect an interception (before November) and failed to score on that drive, missing a field goal.
Get into, and convert in the red zoneAgainst McNeese State, the Bulls had all of one trip to the red zone - and scored. You simply can't do that and expect to win. McNeese made six trips to the red zone and scored five times (three touchdowns and two field goals).
Despite having opposite records, these teams are more alike than they appear to be on the surface. As mentioned in the "keys to the game", neither of these teams has their offenses figured out. The Spartans scored just five more points in their win than USF did in their loss, reflecting the uncertainty both programs face at the quarterback position. Matt Floyd went 9-for-20 for USF with two interceptions and no touchdowns before he was replaced by Bobby Eveld, and Michigan State rotated fifth-year senior Andrew Maxwell and sophomore Connor Cook while both never finding the end zone. On the offensive side of the ball, it is anyone's game.
What may decide who wins this matchup is the defense. USF could not keep McNeese State off the field or out of the end zone, giving up 424 total yards and six touchdowns. In contrast, Michigan State shined on defense: the Spartans forced four turnovers out of the Broncos, two of which were converted into touchdowns. The Bulls struggled to protect the ball in their first game, and will have to ensure they don't face the same issue against a Spartan defense that will surely capitalize on any mistakes that are made.
Players to Watch
If there was one bright spot in USF's loss to McNeese State, it was Marcus Shaw. The senior running back scored on the Bulls' first play from scrimmage, scoring a touchdown on an 80-yard run that would remain USF's only scoring play until the third quarter. Shaw finished the game with the most carries and the most receptions of any player on the team, rushing for 145 yards on 12 carries and grabbing five receptions for 47 yards. Expect Shaw to continue to be one of the primary playmakers against Michigan State and throughout the season.
Michigan State may not have overwhelmed Western Michigan on Saturday, but RB Jeremy Langford made sure his team came out on top with his play on the ground. The junior ran for a career-high 94 yards, good for more than half of the Spartan's total rushing yards on the game. LB Jairus Jones is also a player to keep your eye on, as he had two interceptions against the Broncos and single-handedly set up the first scoring play of the game with a quick lateral to safety Kurtis Drummond.
The game can be seen at noon on ESNPU, streamed online at GoUSFBulls.com, and heard on 98.7 The Fan and 1010-AM.