BULLS : GOAL LINE STAND : ILLINOIS
By Leo Haggerty

Just like last year, USF takes on a Power 5 Conference opponent at Raymond James Stadium in mid-September.  Unlike last year when the Bulls took on Florida State on a Saturday afternoon that was one of the hottest, it not the hottest recorded temperature on that playing surface, this one won’t be as blistering hot on the gridiron.

This year the opposition is Illinois out of the Big 10 Conference.  It also marks the return of former Bucs HC Lovie Smith, who now leads the Illini, to the Rayjay.  It may not be a scorcher, temperature wise, but the competition will white hot.

Here’s the four important areas, in my opinion, where the Bulls have to be successful to get to 3-0.  Let’s see if USF accomplishes these on Friday night.

1ST & GOAL – HAVE CONVENIENT ALZHEIMER’S

USF needs to put the first two contests, with San Jose State and Stony Brook, completely out of their mind.  Those first two tilts were warm-up games for the conference season against Connecticut, which was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma and rightfully so I might add, and their only non-conference showdown with a Power 5 opponent with Illinois.

It would have been nice for the Bulls to get a third game, as well as an initial conference tilt, under their belt but it wasn’t in the cards.  It would have been nice if Hurricane Irma had made a sharp turn to the northeast and stayed out in the Atlantic but that didn’t happen either.

So, South Florida has the daunting task of trying to forget about what has just transpired in the last 10 days and concentrate on winning a football game on Friday night.  That gives the Green & Gold the entire weekend to tend to any family matters that have arisen.

This is why I say it need to be convenient Alzheimer’s.  Forget for a short time so you can play a football game and then remember it’s time to take care of family and friends because that’s more important in their time of need.

2ND & GOAL – DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN THE MOMENT

Was it a big game last year with FSU?  Absolutely.  Were the Bulls caught up in the moment of playing a perennial Top Ten opponent?  Maybe?  Did they realize a little too late that the could go toe-to-toe with the Seminoles?  Spot on.  If this game was played at night, when it should have been played, and it wouldn’t have been triple digit temperatures on the playing surface would USF have won?  That, my friends, we will never know.

This years South Florida gridiron addition knows from the opening kickoff that they have the personnel to be competitive with any team in the country.  There won’t be that moment of indecision of whether they belong on the same stage with a Power 5 opponent that may have crept in last year against Florida State.

Don’t expect the Bulls to be overwhelmed by the logo on the uniforms of the opposition.  A good portion of the USF players and coaches  has already been there and done that.  They need to treat this as any other game on their schedule and bring the heat especially on offense.

3RD & GOAL – PLAY WITH THE LEAD

This is not a team you want to get behind on the scoreboard early. The Illini, coming off a lackluster 2-7 log in the Big 10 West and 3-9 overall, are looking to turn it around and HC Lovie Smith has the Blue & Orange on the right path.

Illinois comes into the Friday night tilt with a 2-0 record and a whole lot of confidence. This is not a team you want to let hang around into the second half because, unlike Stony Brook, the Illini have the depth to make sure they don’t run out and of gas in the fourth quarter like the Seawolves did.

USF needs to be the frontrunner not the pursuer. Get the lead and keep the lead. Make Illinois take chances to catch up and then take advantage of any mistakes.

4TH & GOAL – DON’T ALLOW BIG PLAYS

Ok, we need to be honest here. The Illini are going to score points. When you give a team anywhere between 12 and 16 possessions a game, and that’s usually what occurs when the Bulls offense is going at warp speed, the guys in the other color jerseys are likely to find the end zone.

The key is to make Illinois earn it. Force the guys from Champaign to go on double-digit play drives to score points.

By eliminating big plays, or at least keeping them to one or two when the contest is no longer in doubt, will allow the Green & Gold defenders a chance to get off the field by making a play in a third-down situation. Even better, possibly creating a turnover that stops an Illinois drive or giving the offense a short field. Even better still, putting up points with a sudden-change score.

The bottom line is that South Florida has to bring their A-game to Raymond James Stadium Friday night. No slight to the Bulls two previous opponents but this isn’t San Jose State or Stony Brook in the white uniforms. It’s a Power 5 Big 10 Conference opponent in Illinois and they won’t go away quietly and, if given the chance, can run away and hide.

USF will have to work through all the distractions of a game being cancelled and the aftermath caused by Hurricane Irma on their family along with their friends. It may take a few series for the Bulls to get their sea legs but I feel the Green & Gold have too much firepower for Lovie Smith’s crew.  South Florida 31-21.